DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – The Dallas Zoo has welcomed its first baby gorilla in 20 years; a precious primate that’s healthy and strong.
“Welcoming a critically endangered gorilla into our family is one of the most significant animal announcements we can make, and we’ve waited patiently for 20 years for this moment,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s President and CEO. “We’ve dedicated years of conservation field work to saving gorillas in the wild and now we’re proudly increasing their numbers in human care. We’re truly beaming with pride. ”
The infant marks the fifth baby gorilla the zoo has cared for in nearly 50 years.
A 22-year-old gorilla named Hope quietly delivered the infant last Monday morning in the gorilla barn after laboring for just over an hour. Hope and the baby are both doing well. Mom is tired but she’s tending to the infant perfectly, and the baby appears to be strong – gripping onto mom, and nursing frequently.
Silverback Subira, a first-time father, was the first member of the troop to greet the baby, gently putting his lips on the infant’s head shortly after birth.
This is Hope’s second baby – she delivered her first in 2004 at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, NM. Hope arrived at the Dallas Zoo in February 2017 on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation in hopes of increasing the population in North America.
“It’s taken a lot of perseverance, the right chemistry, and a team of dedicated animal experts to get here,” said Harrison Edell, Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “Reproducing critically endangered species is no easy feat, and this moment doesn’t come without its share of obstacles. We’re feeling a ton of emotions – excitement, relief, gratitude – and now we have to ensure this infant grows into a successful member of our gorilla troop.”
The zoo cares for nine gorillas, including its bachelor troop who live on the south side of the Gorilla Trail, and the family troop who live on the north side. The family troop remains behind the scenes where Hope and her baby are bonding privately. Hope continues to keep her baby close, so keepers have not been able to definitively confirm the gender.
Twenty-two-year-old father Subira is very curious of the infant and calmly investigates the little one; 13-year-old female Megan is the most inquisitive, staying very close to Hope; and 21-year-old female Shanta is extremely respectful of Hope, giving her privacy and space.
“It’s incredible to see how our troop is reacting to the baby – they’re all managing well and Hope has been super patient with their presence,” said Keith Zdrojewski, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Primates and Carnivores. “Hope’s pregnancy lasted 8.5 months and we were able to monitor the baby’s growth along the way through ultrasound. Keepers trained Hope to voluntarily participate in her own health care, allowing us to observe movement; hear the heartbeat; see the infant’s bladder, spine, appendages; and confirm when its head was down.”
Due to habitat destruction, poaching for bush meat and the animal trafficking trade, and disease, gorillas have never been under greater threat in the wild. According to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the world’s leading gorilla conservation organization and a Dallas Zoo partner, there are approximately 350,000 western lowland gorillas left in Africa.
Native to the Congo Basin, western lowland gorillas are the smallest of the subspecies and the least critically endangered. There are roughly 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas, 880 mountain gorillas, and 300 Cross River gorillas remaining in the wild.
With 295 western lowland gorillas living in AZA-accredited zoos, the nation’s top zoos have never been more committed to protecting this species in human care and in their native habitat.
The Dallas Zoo has supported gorilla conservation for many years. A species that is close to its President and CEO’s heart, Hudson is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, where he’s been a member since 2007. He serves on the board of directors for the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), as well. Zdrojewski is also on GRACE’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group – he helped the organization open a one-of-a-kind forest enclosure in the Congo for its orphaned Grauer’s gorillas in 2015.
The zoo’s animal care team aims for Hope and her baby to make their first scheduled public appearance within the next week or so. The zoo will share the date on its social media pages.