News Good News Critically endangered western lowland gorilla born in Smithsonian zoo

Critically endangered western lowland gorilla born in Smithsonian zoo

Calaya and Moke gorillas
Mum Calaya and baby Moke take a moment to bond. Photo: Smithsonian
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A US zoo has welcomed the birth of a male western lowland gorilla this week, a breed listed as critically endangered due to disease and poaching.

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute said it was the first time in nine years an infant had been born there.

It has been named Moke – meaning “junior” or “little one” in the African Lingala language – and is bonding well with its mother, Calaya.

“[It] is very special and significant, not only to our zoo family but also to this critically endangered species as a whole,” the zoo’s curator of primates, Meredith Bastian, said.

“The primate team’s goal was to set Calaya up for success as best we could, given that she is a first-time mother.”

“Doing so required great patience and dedication on the part of my team, and I am very proud of them and Calaya.”

Calaya became an online star after the zoo announced she was pregnant with the hashtag #GorillaStory, which will continue to be used to update followers on Moke’s progress.

Staff spent months training Calaya for pregnancy and birth, including getting her to take part in ulstrasounds, urinate on cue, and learn breastfeeding techniques.

Calaya was also shown photos of other mother gorillas and was given a plush gorilla toy to handle.

Calaya and Moke gorillas
Staff taught Calaya breastfeeding techniques while she was pregnant. Photo: Smithsonian

She gave birth on her own and can be seen kissing and nursing Moke in the moments immediately following birth.

“This infant’s arrival triggers many emotions — joy, excitement, relief — and pride that all of our perseverance in preparing Calaya for motherhood has paid off,” Ms Brown said.

“We will provide support to her if need be, but I have every confidence that Calaya will be a great mum to Moke.

“I am excited to see how he will fit into the group dynamic. There are a lot of different personalities in this family troop, but they all work well together.”

Calaya and Moke gorillas
It was Calaya’s first pregnancy. Photo: Smithsonian

Westen lowland gorillas are native to Africa and live in the forests of Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Congo.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed them as critically endangered due to disease and poaching.

Scientists estimate the number of wild western lowland gorillas has decreased by 60 per cent in the past 25 years.