Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Who's the daddy! First gorilla born at Belfast Zoo in 16 years is 'little miracle'

Mother Kwanza cradles the newborn gorilla at Belfast Zoo
Mother Kwanza cradles the newborn gorilla at Belfast Zoo

A gorilla orphaned by illegal bushmeat traders has fathered a youngster at Belfast Zoo – even though it was thought he would never become a dad.

Gugas is Belfast Zoo's silverback gorilla and – unlike most zoo gorillas – was born in the wild.

He had a tough start in life as both his parents were killed for the bushmeat trade.

The young orphaned Gugas was acquired by a Portuguese circus and was abandoned at the gates of Lisbon Zoo after he fell ill. After that, he was moved to Stuttgart Zoo, where he became part of a nursery group for orphaned gorillas.

In 1988 he arrived at Belfast Zoo where he joined a social group including Delilah and Kamili.

In 2011 the group was joined by Kwanza, who arrived from La Valle De Singes in France, and she has now delivered the first western lowland gorilla infant to be born at the zoo in 16 years.

Staff are delighted at the arrival of the male baby gorilla – especially as it looked as though Gugas would never become a father.

Zoo curator Julie Mansell said: "Gugas was born in the wild and he is therefore genetically very important to the European breeding programme, as he is not represented in the zoo population.

"Because Gugas is so important, last year we decided to test his fertility. The results were less than promising and it was suspected that Gugas would never father any infants. You can therefore imagine the entire team's delight when we discovered that Kwanza was pregnant with her little miracle."

Gorillas are often depicted as King Kong-style monsters, but this couldn't be further from the truth, the zoo says. They are peaceful, family-oriented animals that live in family groups called troops.

During the early weeks the newborn will cling on to Kwanza's stomach. As the infant grows and develops, his strength and co-ordination will improve and he will begin to ride on his mother's back.

Zoo manager Mark Challis said: "Almost all apes are either endangered or critically endangered and some professionals have even predicted that all species of ape will be extinct within 30 years, showing the fragility of animal life in the modern world and the importance of zoos such as Belfast.

"It's been an exciting few years for Belfast Zoo's ape team. In 2011, with the help of our visitors, we fundraised over £20,000 for the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) ape campaign.

"In 2012 we welcomed little Lucy, the first chimpanzee to be born at the zoo in 15 years. She was swiftly followed by Pixie in 2013, and now we have a gorilla baby.

"In recent decades gorilla populations have declined by more than 50% and this is predominantly due to threats caused by humans, including the bushmeat trade, habitat destruction and viruses.

"We are delighted that as a zoo, we can play an active role in the conservation of these apes, especially as Gugas's genetics are so important. We hope that this is the first of many more to come."

The public can help to name the zoo's latest arrival by visiting www.belfastzoo.co.uk or www.facebook.com/belfastzoo for more details and to place a vote.

FACTFILE

Gorillas are the largest of all primates. They have large canine teeth and muscular arms, but are very gentle and sociable animals.

They live in family groups led by a dominant male more commonly known as a silverback due to the large band of silver-coloured hair that covers his back.

The silverback leads other members of his group through the forest on their search for food and rest locations. He mediates conflicts between group members, and is responsible for their safety.

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