Finally, the wait is over! On Tuesday afternoon at 1:55pm we welcomed a new addition to our Gorilla family at Taronga Zoo – a brand new baby boy! He was born to female Mbeli and male Kibali. Mbeli was born at Taronga Zoo in February 2003, she was our first baby Gorilla born in our original group led by the much loved Kibabu.
Her mother Mouila was Kibabu’s favourite female and history is repeating itself in her daughter Mbeli. She is Kibali’s favourite female as well. And it appears to be true love, as Mbeli has been intrigued with Kibali since they were first introduced.
This brings me back to the beginning; there was lots of planning and preparations to get us here. Many people from different departments at Taronga Zoo worked together to create our current Gorilla group. Firstly, our future silverback was selected by curators on recommendation from the European species coordinator. Then, after mountains of paperwork, the now 13-year-old Kibali was brought over from France. After consideration, two females from Melbourne Zoo came to Taronga to be introduced to Kibali. The first one was Mbeli, who had originally come from Taronga but had been moved to Melbourne Zoo few years earlier, and second was her friend Johari. Introductions went very well, after which Kibali and Mbeli mated few times.
Last but not least, Frala, our original female from Kibabu’s group was introduced. Now we have the family complete with Kibali and his three females and of course the new baby boy. Mbeli is a very good mother, she had the good example in her own mother Mouila and also other females in the group. She was able to witness raising of a few infants in the family group. Female gorillas do not rely only on maternal instincts but rather they have to learn from experienced females. The same goes for the males who learn from their fathers.
Our male, Kibali, is quite young and at times he has shown some immature behaviour. But since he has become a father, his behaviour is changing. He is starting to take his role of silverback more seriously. He briefly checked his son after the birth and now he is protecting and guarding Mbeli. Our vet can vouch for it, having witnessed Kibali’s growing protective silverback skills.
Just the same as in a human pregnancy, the female Gorilla is under the watchful eye of professionals pre and post birth. There was even a human obstetrician on standby in case of emergency or birth complications. Fortunately, everything went smoothly and the little male is very strong and Mbeli is taking good care of him. His birth was the culmination of the hard work of many people and it was a very emotional moment for everyone. It is symbolic as well, as our first baby in the new group was born to the first offspring from the original group. It is the second generation in making.
We’re pleased to announce the name of our new Gorilla baby, Mjukuu. In Swahili it means grandchild/second generation. Mbeli and Mjukuu are doing fine. He is suckling well and Mbeli is being the perfect mother, truly Mouila’s daughter!
By Vera, Senior Primate Keeper