Four of the seven western lowland gorillas making their home at the Houston Zoo had access to explore the main habitat yard for the first time today, April 8. The family group spent time closely examining the entire area, from climbing a specially-designed felled cement tree to collecting all the treats the keepers spread throughout. Favorite treats included carrots, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce.
The intricately designed space holds both groups of western lowland gorillas who will spend their days alternating between an outdoor habitat filled with lush landscape that mimics an African forest and a multi-tiered night house that includes private bedrooms, an artistic 23-foot-tall climbing tree, and a behind-the-scenes outdoor yard.
These magnificent animal ambassadors offer the opportunity to increase awareness and inspire conservation action to protect their wild counterparts. The Houston Zoo’s conservation efforts for these species will also be communicated through interpretive messages and interactive experiences that reinforce compelling education programs.
Once open to the public on Memorial Day weekend, guests will be able to see the gorillas through many different areas of the habitat. From an arrival building with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the dry river bed, to an open boardwalk alongside the gorilla’s naturalistic forest, guests will also see the gorillas inside their state-of-the-art night house.
The gorillas calling Houston home are two distinct troops of western lowland gorillas: a troop of male gorillas from Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, SC. Chaka (30), Mike (23) and Ajari (14). This bachelor troop has been busy getting to know the day room and the outside backyard. They will begin to have access to the main habitat in the coming weeks. The bachelor trio will alternate spaces at the Houston Zoo with the family group.
Zuri (31), Holli (25) and their daughter Sufi (13) arrived in Houston from the Bronx Zoo after a nine month stay at the Louisville Zoo. Binti (40) from Audubon Zoo was chosen to join the family troop as a part of the Species Survival Plan, a cooperation between Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) accredited zoos and aquariums to properly manage specific, and typically threatened or endangered, species population.
The endangered western lowland gorilla faces many threats. Their native habitat in central and west Africa is shrinking largely due to the expansion of mining and agriculture in the area. The already dwindling population faces the added threat from illegal hunting. As one of man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom, their highly social nature and intelligence make them prime ambassadors to educate our community about the threats faced by all gorillas and the conservation work currently undertaken by the Houston Zoo. Staff works in tandem with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) to improve the health of remaining gorilla populations through improved human health for veterinarians and conservation workers as well as rural communities. Active health programs and education are fostering a better understanding of an appreciation for the natural world for those living near these endangered apes. The zoo staff also works with the Art of Conservation project, and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education(GRACE) Center.