Here’s some warming news for a cold and frosty day. Undeterred by the kind of weather that even London Zoo’s penguins might reasonably describe as ‘a bit nippy’, a critically endangered troupe of Western Lowland gorillas are welcoming a new addition to their dwindling clan.
Two days ago, London zookeepers noticed that mother Mjukuu was preparing to give birth. London Zoo’s Primates Section Manager Kathryn Sanders said: ‘We started our day as normal – we gave the gorillas their breakfast and began our cleaning routines. When we returned to their back dens, we could see Mjukuu was starting to stretch and squat – a sign that she was in labour.’
In a feat that most human mothers would envy, Mjukuu gave birth in just 17 minutes, before cuddling the new arrival in the safety of her indoor back den. Wisely, the zookeepers gave her plenty of space, monitoring her progress via CCTV.
According to Sanders: ‘Mjukuu was spotted on camera tenderly holding her newborn and demonstrating her wonderful mothering instincts – cleaning her infant and checking it over. We’ll be giving mum and baby lots of time and space to get to know each other, and for the rest of the troop to get used to their new addition – they’re as excited as we are and can’t stop staring at the baby.’
Zookeepers still don’t know the sex of the new arrival (good luck to anyone tasked with prying the little one away to examine its genitals). But they’re thrilled that an international conservation breeding programme for Western Lowland gorillas is starting to bear fruit. This scheme brought Mjukuu’s babydaddy Kiburi to London Zoo from Tenerife in November 2022, with the aim of building a healthy and genetically diverse population of these endangered apes.
Western Lowland gorillas are native to dense and remote African rainforests, where they’re at risk from poaching and disease. It’s hard to establish exact figures, but conservationists estimate that numbers have fallen by 60 percent in the last 20-25 years, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classing the species as critically endangered.
London Zoo is part of international efforts to boost their numbers. Pop in and see this embattled troupe and who knows, you might get a peek at this cosseted newborn in his bougie central London pad.
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