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A milestone a minute for Willie B. III

Hello! My name is Sherri, and I am a member of the Gorilla Care Team. I have been here at Zoo Atlanta just over three months, almost as long as our newest addition, Willie B. III! What a way to start a new job, right?! Although I have been working with gorillas for a couple of years now, wafting in their glorious smell through my nostrils daily, Willie B. III is my very first experience with a gorilla baby. I truly could not be more excited to see Willie start to hit these incredible milestones. What does that milestone timeline look like for a baby western lowland gorilla, you ask? Let’s get into it!

Mom Shalia gave birth to Willie B. III on April 24, 2023, around 11 am. This is a little unusual, as gorillas typically give birth in the evening, but it is not unheard of. Shalia typically does things in her own way on her time clock anyway, so this did not surprise me at all! When gorilla babies are born, they are much like human babies, not able to support themselves right away. Gorilla babies are also twice as small as the average human baby, weighing around three pounds when they are first born. Mom typically carries the baby in her arms until the baby is 3 to 4 months old, and then the baby climbs onto her back and holds on. Willie is not quite at this stage yet, but we have seen Shalia holding his arms while he works on standing and building those core and leg muscles.

Gorilla babies also nurse until they are between 2.5 to 4 years old! During that time, however, the infants will start to try solid foods and nibble on some browse as Mom weans them. Willie has a long way to go before he is weaned, but he does have some adorable little teeth that he has been using to chomp on anything he can get in his mouth. I had the pleasure of discovering his first erupted tooth myself on June 15, at just 7.5 weeks old! They truly grow up so fast. Baby gorillas develop about twice as fast as human babies. So, these milestones are going to fly by! He already has grown quite a bit and has a lot more hair on his body. As Willie continues to develop, he will also get a patch of white hair on his backside. This spot helps mom keep track of the baby, as well as signifies to the other troop members that he is an infant/ adolescent and to be patient with him. A good friend of mine and fellow Gorilla Keeper calls this white spot a “free pass.” It allows the infant/ adolescent to steal food and be rowdy without any significant repercussions from the troop. As he gets older, the spot will become smaller and eventually dissipate. No more free passes after that!

Shalia has been an excellent mother to Willie … even when he gets covered in food bits after she eats. The other two females in the group have expressed some interest in Willie; Kambera has been seen a few times ever so gently touching his little (but rather large) head. Amari, who has been described as a gorilla who does not understand the concept of personal space, has also been seen getting exceptionally close to Willie, and sniffing his head. Shalia typically allows this to happen and then after a minute she moves somewhere else. First-time father Willie B. Jr. has also been observed sitting close in proximity to Shalia and Willie, very gently poking his head with his finger, and giving him a good sniff!

What can we expect next for Willie B. III? We expect to see him standing unassisted, crawling around a bit and then, at around 4 months old, onto Shalia’s back as she moves throughout the day, giving her two free arms again! Some moms allow their infants to crawl around at a further distance than other moms. Much like humans, every gorilla mother differs in her parenting style. I am excited to see Shalia’s as Willie grows and eventually becomes more independent. I hope you are as excited as I am to watch this gorilla kid grow up and celebrate all his milestones with his care team here at Zoo Atlanta!

(Photo: Sherri K.)

Sherri K.
Keeper I, Primates


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