Belfast Telegraph

First gorilla born at Belfast Zoo in 16 years is a 'little miracle'

By Staff Reporter

ZOO keepers in north Belfast have been left Bamboo-zled after the arrival of their newest little swinger.

Gugas, the zoo's silverback gorilla became a father to the first western lowland gorilla infant to be born in the zoo in 16 years – even though zookeepers thought he was infertile.

Having been at the zoo for 25 years, Gugas has always been closely monitored by the keepers because unlike most zoo gorillas, he was born in the wild.

Meaning that any breeding is genetically very important to the European breeding programme.

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."

Gugas was orphaned as an infant when his parents were killed for the bushmeat trade, having been acquired by a Portuguese circus he was abandoned at the gates of Lisbon Zoo after falling ill. He was later moved to Stuttgart Zoo, where he became part of a nursery group for orphaned gorillas before arriving at Belfast Zoo in 1988.

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.

"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 are being encouraged to help 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.

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