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Belfast Zoo braced for monkey business as Namoki flies in to meet new playmates

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Namoki inspects a box of goodies during her goodbye party as she prepares to leave Bristol for Belfast Zoo

Namoki inspects a box of goodies during her goodbye party as she prepares to leave Bristol for Belfast Zoo

Namoki inspects a box of goodies during her goodbye party as she prepares to leave Bristol for Belfast Zoo

She's big, she's hairy and she's en route to Belfast.

Western lowland gorilla Namoki is the latest female to join the band at Belfast Zoo, leaving her family at Bristol Zoo Gardens behind.

Her departure was celebrated with a goodbye party at the enclosure at Bristol, with the gorillas given cardboard boxes full of their favourite foods.

Namoki concentrated on eating the vegetables from her box, while younger half-brother Kukena (3) played with his.

The nine-year-old gorilla was born at Bristol and has now reached breeding age, but because she is related to the males in her group she has to join a different band.

She sets off for Northern Ireland on October 14, and will be welcomed with a "massive party", according to Belfast curator Judy Mansell.

"All the gorillas are managed through a European breeding programme and the people who sit on the committee decide which gorilla goes where," she said.

"Namoki needs to move out of her group and we need a new female gorilla in our group. That takes us up to two males, and she will be the number five female."

Up until a few years ago there had been a dearth of gorilla babies in Belfast Zoo and fertility testing suggested silverback Gugas might never become a father.

Fortunately he proved the experts wrong and last year male Baako, the first infant in 16 years, was born at Belfast Zoo, soon followed by female Kabibi this spring.

"Everybody will get a shock to the system for a short while after Namoki arrives.

"Another of the females came from France and it took nearly a year before she really settled in," Judy said. "At first Namoki will have her own access to the area so that she will find all her own nooks and crannies and get to know the area really well."

Then the curators will gauge the response of the other gorillas and decide whether to introduce Gugas or one of the females to Namoki.

"It could be Kamili – she is high up in the group and if Namoki has Kamili on her side she will be doing well.

"It's all about letting her form her own friendships and allegiances in the group. They've all got their own personalities."

Namoki will be transported to Belfast by crate as she has been trained to enter a crate on demand.

She will be accompanied by Lynsey Bugg, assistant curator of mammals at the zoo, who has known her since she was born.

"This is a very exciting time for Namoki, who is about to embrace the next chapter of her life as an adult gorilla," Lynsey said.

"The process of introducing Namoki to another group of gorillas will be a sensitive one and the Belfast Zoo keepers and I will be keeping a close eye on her and monitoring her interaction with the rest of the group."

Namoki was born at Bristol Zoo in 2005 and is the daughter of Romina and 32-stone silverback Jock.

"Namoki worked out how to get her own way with Jock from a very young age," Ms Bugg added.

"If she adopts the same charm with the male gorilla at Belfast Zoo, I have no doubt she'll be very popular.

"Namoki looks up to the other female gorillas in the group and has hopefully developed a sense of how to be an adult female gorilla and how to raise a family."

Factfile

There are as few as between 90,000 and 110,000 western lowland gorillas in the wild, with many killed for the "bush meat" trade. The Ebola virus is also causing problems for the remaining populations. Over the past 20 to 25 years, the number of gorillas has decreased by more than 60%.

Belfast Telegraph