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Gorillas on the move

Mbeli, Kali and Gunther will soon start a new chapter at a new zoo

Three bachelor western lowland gorillas from Zoo Atlanta will soon leave Atlanta for a new home at a new zoo. Mbeli, Kali and Gunther are scheduled to travel on May 16, 2018, in a move recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP). The gorillas will be accompanied on their trip by two members of the Zoo’s Primate Team.

“Everyone at Zoo Atlanta, and most especially their care team, will miss Mbeli, Kali and Gunther. These three have grown up here at the Zoo and are very special to us,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Vice President of Animal Divisions. “Collaborative programs like the SSP are so important to the long-term success of animal populations, and our organizations are not islands. We’re all working together for the sustainability of a critically endangered species.”

Kali, 12, and Gunther, 11, are half-brothers, and have lived together in a bachelor group with Mbeli, 16, since 2012. All three were born at Zoo Atlanta. Mbeli is the youngest son of silverback Ozzie and the late Banga. Kali, known as Kal, is the eldest son of silverback Taz and female Kuchi, who garnered national attention at the time of Kal’s birth. Kal and his sister, Kazi, are twins, which are rare in western lowland gorillas. In the days following their delivery, Kuchi became the first gorilla in a zoological setting in the world to rear twins independently. The youngest of the bachelor trio, Kal’s half-brother Gunther, is the son of Taz and female Sukari and is a grandson of the legendary late Willie B.

Zoo Atlanta was an early leader in the housing of male gorillas in bachelor groups, a social grouping which is observed in the wild but which was once thought impossible in zoo settings. The gorilla population at Zoo Atlanta, one of the largest in North America, also currently includes two adult bachelor groups: Kekla, Stadi and Charlie, and Willie B., Jr., and Jasiri.

In addition to being a pioneer in the care and study of bachelor gorillas, Zoo Atlanta has also risen to leadership in the care of gorillas in a variety of life stages, with expertise sought and emulated by peers around the world. The Zoo’s great ape care teams are frequently visited and shadowed by counterparts at other AZA organizations across the U.S.

Western lowland gorilla populations have plummeted in the wild even in the years since the births of Mbeli, Kali and Gunther. The species is now classified as critically endangered as a result of habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade and emerging diseases. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over a 25-year period, these combined threats have reduced wild populations by 60 percent, with declines of as much as 90 percent in some parts of their range in western Africa. Populations living within North American zoos are overseen by the Gorilla SSP, which seeks to maintain a self-sustaining, genetically diverse gorilla population for future generations.

Twenty-three gorillas have been born at Zoo Atlanta since the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest in 1988, and all have been reared in families by their mothers or by a gorilla surrogate. Research by Zoo Atlanta staff has influenced industry-wide improvements in the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced the world’s understanding of gorillas, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior and cognition. Zoo Atlanta is the headquarters of the Great Ape Heart Project, the world’s first effort to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four great ape taxa: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos.

Zoo Atlanta is a Platinum Supporter of the AZA Ape Taxon Advisory Group (TAG), a collective effort to preserve wild ape populations and to increase and sustain financial support from zoos for their conservation. For more than 20 years, the Zoo has supported its longtime partner in gorilla conservation, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, by providing pro-bono headquarters space, information technology support and financial resources. The Zoo and the Fossey Fund were among the organizations to host the first-ever World Gorilla Day in 2017.

Click here to learn more about conservation programs supported by Zoo Atlanta.

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