Bristol Zoo Gardens’ newest arrival, Kala the gorilla, is celebrating her eighth birthday today.
Kala, who arrived from Germany’s Hannover Zoo in October, is enjoying the day with her new family of western lowland gorillas.
Keepers at the Zoo have spent the past weeks helping Kala get used to her new surroundings.
She was first introduced to Jock, the 28-stone silverback in a series of meetings lasting from a few minutes to a couple of hours.
Kala was very keen on Jock from day one and once the pair relaxed in each other’s company they were kept together 24 hours a day.
Then she met the other six gorillas including the youngest, Afia, who is almost 3, and 20-month-old Ayana.
This has meant the Gorilla House being closed at certain times so the gorillas could get to know each other away from the public.
Sarah Gedman, mammal team leader keeper, said: “Introducing a new gorilla to the rest of the troop had to be done carefully and at their own pace.
“It was as much a change for the gorillas already here as it was for Kala and we had to ensure that they all felt comfortable with each other.
“We had to concentrate on strengthening Kala and Jock’s relationship first and then introduce the other females.”
In a troop of gorillas the silver back is always in charge but the females also establish their own hierarchy.
Sarah said: “This can be based on a number of different things such as age, personality, number of offspring and their relationship with Jock.”
Kala has come to Bristol on the recommendation of the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme, managed by EAZA (the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria).
Keepers are hoping that in time, Kala and Jock breed and so far the signs are good.
Lynsey Bugg, curator of mammals at Bristol Zoo Gardens said: “We want to expand our gorilla breeding programme and Jock is a good genetic match for Kala. Bristol Zoo has a successful history of breeding gorillas and this is the exciting next step in continuing that for the future.”
In the wild, at Kala’s age, females would look to leave their group to try to find a mate in another troop so Kala’s move to Bristol mirrors what would happen in the natural world.
Western lowland gorillas come from an area of dense forest and swamp which covers South East Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic and are critically endangered in the wild.
Their native forests are being exploited for their timber, which opens up routes into the forest providing easier access to hunters who kill gorillas for bush meat and trophies.
Sponsored by Bristol-based Nessy Learning Ltd, Bristol Zoo’s family of western lowland gorillas live on Gorilla Island and in their award-winning Gorilla House.
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