Taronga Zoo is preparing for silverback Gorilla, ‘Kibabu’ to go to New Zealand to establish one of the first gorilla bachelor groups in the Australasian region.
Kibabu and two of his male offspring, ‘Fuzu’ and ‘Fataki’, are scheduled to leave Taronga in 2013 to form a bachelor group at Orana Wildlife Park in New Zealand.
The move by Kibabu and the young males is critical to the stability of Taronga’s world renowned Western Lowland Gorilla group and mirrors the lifecycle of male gorillas in the wild.
Taronga Zoo’s Primate Manager, Louise Grossfeldt, said: “Bachelor groups are common in gorilla society. Fuzu and Fataki will soon be reaching sexual maturity, in the wild they would be driven away from their family groups by the Silverback so he can maintain his dominance.”
“Generally the young ‘blackbacks’ would form their own bachelor groups, so we need to reflect this situation for them. If we were to leave our group as it is, the younger boys would begin to challenge Kibabu for his position.”
“Usually these challenges occur with very little warning and are unsettling for every single member of the group. The fallout could destroy the entire social structure,” said Louise.
Kibabu was born at Howlett’s Zoo in England before being moved to Apenhuel in Holland to become leader of the group. They arrived in Australia in late 1996. He is considered to be the ultimate Silverback, however he has reached an age where it is time for him to step down from this position.
“As much as all the keepers respect and admire Kibabu as a near-perfect leader, we also know it’s important for the stability of our female group and the on-going breeding program that a new silverback takes over the reins.”
At 33 years of age Kibabu is considered an ‘old man’ for a gorilla. In the wild, females would disband and move on from an ageing Silverback.
“As Kibabu becomes older, weaker and more reluctant to involve himself in family politics, our females would pick up on his vulnerability and could potentially start challenging each other for dominance. This would destroy the group’s social balance which is a vital part of gorilla families.”
A new silverback is also important to introduce a new bloodline to the region. Kibabu has sired an impressive 14 offspring. To maintain genetic diversity within Australasia it is important to introduce a new, unrelated male to take over breeding. Taronga’s Gorillas are part of the European species management program for this critically endangered species, helping to safeguard against extinction.
Despite the move across the Tasman being three years away, finding a new dominant male for the group isn’t an easy task. Currently, Taronga is talking to international zoo colleagues to find a new silverback.
“Kibabu is such a fantastic leader and protector of his family, so we are being rather selective in choosing his successor. We need to consider genetics but also the new male’s behavioural traits.”
“Our Gorilla family are world renowned for their stability, self-management and breeding successes, so we want a male who knows how to live in a natural family situation, has seen females give birth and rear their own young and who has been privileged enough to learn good leadership traits by watching another successful silverback,” said Louise.
Orana Wildlife Park is currently designing a purpose-built gorilla habitat to accommodate Kibabu, Fataki and Fuzu. Initially Taronga keepers will assist in settling them into their new home. The arrival of the males in 2013 will create the first ever group of Western Lowland Gorillas in New Zealand, helping to inspire the community to safeguard a future for this impressive but sadly critically endangered species.
Born May 1977
The ‘Ki’ in Kibabu’s name was also part of his parents’ names and was used as a family identifier. He is the dominant male and silverback, is a close-to-perfect leader, well respected by the other gorillas in his group and at 210 kilograms, a magnificent gorilla. Kibabu is the father of the three young gorillas in the group. He is the obvious leader, protective and always alert, should any disagreement arise within his family. He can often been seen sitting towards the back of the exhibit, watching his family. Despite this, Kibabu still displays characteristic features of juvenile behaviour occasionally. He can sometimes be seen playing wrestling games with the younger gorillas – but once he realises the keepers are watching him he stops and becomes very serious again! Kibabu doesn’t take advantage of his position as a leader, except during feeding time. Kibabu loves his food! He’ll become dominant and a little assertive but never aggressive.
Born 24 May 2003
Fataki, whose name means ‘fireworks’, is a typical little boy, complete with tantrums and bouts of showing off. He is quite cheeky and loves running out to steal food from the magnificent silverback, Kibabu. He frequently runs around beating his chest and making a spectacle of himself.
Born 8 December 2007
Fuzu’s name is Swahili for ‘To succeed, to win’. Right from the start, Fuzu was a strong little baby and intrigued about the world around him. Due to his mother, Frala’s unconventional style, the youngster was carried on her back earlier than most babies and visitors delighted in watching his little hands grasp on tightly. He has since grown in to a rambunctious, cheeky and strong, young gorilla who delights in wrestling and fighting with older brother, Fataki, as well as annoying his father, Kibabu. He can often be seen racing through the exhibit ahead of Kibabu after attempting to steal food from, or pulling hair out of his father's back.
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