Houston Zoo Prepares to Welcome New Gorillas

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © Wildlife Conservation Society

Seven western lowland gorillas will soon arrive in Houston in preparation for the grand opening of the new gorilla habitat at the Houston Zoo, opening Memorial Day weekend.  The intricately designed space will hold two groups of western lowland gorillas who will spend their days alternating between an outdoor habitat filled with lush landscape that mimics an African forestand 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, 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.

Photo Credit: Richard Rokes

The first to arrive in the Bayou City will be a troop of male gorillas from Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, SC. Chaka (30), Mike (23) and Ajari (14) are scheduled to arrive this week. Chaka and Mike lived at the Riverbanks Zoo since July 2004 when the pair arrived from Philadelphia Zoo in Pennsylvania. Ajari joined them in January 2013 from Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee. Mike, one of the three gorillas making the move, has a cardiac condition that will require attention throughout his trip and upon arrival. The Houston Zoo and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden have worked closely to create a travel and health monitoring plan to ensure all three gorillas will arrive safely in Houston.  The group is also working closely with the Great Ape Heart Project based at Zoo Atlanta to develop a long-term medical plan which may include medication and possibly an implanted monitoring device.

The bachelor trio will alternate spaces at the Houston Zoo with a family troop of three gorillas who will arrive in March from Louisville, KY and a single female who will join the family troop from Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

Photo Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © Wildlife Conservation Society

Zuri (31), Holli (25) and their daughter Sufi (13) are arriving in Houston from the Bronx Zoo after a nine month stay at the Louisville Zoo. Binti (40) from Audubon Zoo has been 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 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 Conservation Heritage-Turambe project and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation (GRACE) Center.

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