Recently in United States Zoo systems, many gorilla parents have been welcoming new babies into the world. In 2018, several new gorilla infants have been born in Jacksonville Zoo in Florida, the Smithsonian National Zoo, The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, and the Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina. This exciting time is perfect for a refresher on just what makes gorilla infants special.
Most gorillas live in a troop of one male (the silverback), a few females, and their offspring. Females give birth one baby at a time, and are very affectionate and close with them for all stages of their infancy. Even the silverback is usually quite gentle with the infants in his troop, creating a loving family.
Gorillas are not born helpless, they have a strong grasping grip in their hands and feet. As soon as they are born, they latch onto their mothers’ stomachs and get carried around until they are strong enough to climb on their mother's back and ride her. Some zoos can’t tell the genders of the gorilla babies until a few weeks after their birth because the mother holds them so close! They begin playing, smiling, and bouncing at just 8 weeks, and start crawling at about 9 weeks. Their mothers nurse them for a few months after birth, and they start eating vegetation by about 4 months. Gorilla juveniles are very rambunctious and playful with their small siblings, who get very exploratory once they're able to crawl without their mothers.
The most recent gorilla infant born in US zoos is Moke, meaning "little one" in the Lingala language spoken in the Congo. He was born to Cayala, a loving western lowland gorilla mom at the Smithsonian National Zoo. He turns 1 year old next week!
The Bronx Zoo here in NYC has also welcomed a new baby in 2015, who is now a juvenile gorilla at the Congo Gorilla forest exhibit. The Bronx Zoo is part of the Wildlife Conservation Society, which has pioneered healthy and safe standards for the animals they keep in captivity and important conservation work in the wild. The zoos that are part of the WCS practice responsible breeding of gorillas through a rotation system of births in their network of zoos. Right now, all three major species of gorilla (western lowland, mountain, and eastern lowland) are critically endangered. Through the WCS and the work of many other conservationists around the world, the western lowland gorilla population growth rate is no longer decreasing and the mountain gorilla population has increased to over 1000 gorillas in the wild.
Inside and outside zoos, the future for gorillas looks bright!
By Emma Gometz