Taronga’s Western Lowland Gorilla family is part of an important worldwide breeding program which insures a future for their species. The Sydney group is recognised globally for their breeding success, with our much loved Silverback, ‘Kibabu’ having sired an impressive 14 offspring.
But just like all good leaders, there must be a succession plan for the future. To avoid inbreeding and to make sure the Australasian population remains genetically healthy, a few years ago our head primate keeper and senior curator scoured the world for a young male, who could one day lead our gorilla community.
We were looking for a male who was at an age where in the wild he would naturally leave his family group to find his own mate. This way we were emulating the natural rites of passage for the species. We also wanted a gorilla who had grown up in a family situation, had seen females give birth and who had a strong Silverback as a father to learn good leadership traits. We also needed a male who was genetically different from Taronga’s group, which originally came from Holland.
Kibali ticked all those boxes. Having reached a sub-adult age, Kibali had instinctively started to separate himself from his family group, telling his keepers at the French ape park where he lived it was time for him to start the next exciting chapter of his life. And, despite being a young adult, or what we call a ‘blackback’, Kibali with his calm and measured nature was already showing some excellent leadership traits.
Western Lowland Gorillas are critically endangered, just one step away from being extinct! That’s why good zoos around the world, like Taronga and the French ape park, La Vallee des Singes, Kibali’s birth place, work together to breed genetically healthy animals, providing a safety net against the loss of them in the wild.
Kibali’s arrival is also a welcomed change for current Silverback, Kibabu. He is getting on in age and the pressures of ruling and leading a family is immense. If Kibabu was in the wild, a younger male lurking around the edges would have already challenged him for his position, relieving him of this pressure. Now that French gorilla, Kibali is living in the next door exhibit to Kibabu and will gradually meet more females we are slowly helping both males make the transition without any conflict.
In the wild the transfer of dominance would normally result in serious injury or death for one of them. Kibabu and Kibali are obviously the lucky ones, they will never meet and the transition will be managed seamlessly by their dedicated keepers.