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Ozzie and the “Golden Girls”

If you are regular guests of Zoo Atlanta, you are probably familiar with our geriatric gorillas, Ozzie and Choomba, who are 58 and 56 years old, respectively. Ozzie and Choomba live in Habitat 2 and have been together for over 15 years. Ozzie is the oldest male gorilla on record and is frequently seen napping in his wood-wool pile, while Choomba likes to lie on and under the hammocks. Up until about three years ago, they shared their space with another female named Shamba. Choomba and Shamba were the best of friends. Shamba unfortunately passed in October of 2017, leaving Choomba without her buddy. While Choomba still had Ozzie to keep her company, it just wasn’t the same sort of companionship she had with Shamba. Many discussions were had after Shamba had passed, and it was decided that the best move was to introduce Kuchi, a 36-year-old female from Taz’s group, into Habitat 2. Kuchi previously lived with both Choomba and Ozzie before (Ozzie is Kuchi’s father), so this was more of a reintroduction rather than a brand-new intro.            

Gorillas are considered “geriatric” when they reach the age of 40. Kuchi was a perfect fit to join this group as she is nearing that geriatric age and would be able to live a more relaxed lifestyle in Habitat 2 with the other geriatric gorillas. Prior to the move, Kuchi was living in Habitat 3 with  nine other individuals, five of those individuals being under the age of 10 years old. As an aging gorilla, it was hard for Kuchi to keep up with all the youngsters in the group as they were very playful and full of energy. Kuchi’s son, Henry, was also a factor to keep in mind as we did not want to separate them before the appropriate age. When Henry reached the age of 9, he was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP) to join a bachelor group at the Houston Zoo with other males around his age. This is the age that males will naturally leave their family group, so we felt comfortable with this move.  Henry took that journey back in May of 2019 and has been settling into his new home with his new buddies very well. This move was the last piece of the puzzle before we were able to move Kuchi into her new group.

The introduction started a few weeks ago with just Choomba and Kuchi. Before putting them together in the same space, they were able to have contact with one another through a mesh door. After we saw positive signs through the door, we moved onto the next step of allowing them to be together. We wanted to give them a chance to work out any kinks before we added Ozzie to the mix. Choomba has proved that she is dominant over Kuchi, which we fully expected since it is normal for there to be a hierarchy between females. She quickly settled down over the first few days and allowed Kuchi to share her space.  Once we felt that they were starting to form a good relationship, we allowed Ozzie to join in. It’s been smooth sailing ever since. The three of them have been doing very well all together and spend most of their time napping on Habitat 2 in their preferred nests.  Choomba and Kuchi even started to engage in play with one another! When we witnessed them playing for the first time, all of us were overwhelmed with excitement because it was the perfect way to show that the decision to put them together was the right one. Having a companion again for Choomba was the best way to improve her overall well-being, and we are thrilled to see all of these positive signs. While Kuchi will not be able to replace Shamba, we are all so excited that Choomba has a new companion to hang out with, all while Kuchi is able to live a more relaxed lifestyle. Be sure to come check out Ozzie and his “golden girls” in Habitat 2 next time you are visiting Zoo Atlanta. Hope to see you all soon!
Hayley T.
Keeper II, Primates

(photo by Hayley T.)

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