Welcome Amari, Kambera and Shalia!
While he doesn’t know it yet, the only son of Zoo Atlanta’s most famous gorilla is about to embark on a monumental new chapter as the head of a new family group. Zoo Atlanta is thrilled to welcome female western lowland gorillas Amari, Kambera, and Shalia. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP) has recommended that the females form a new breeding group with 22-year-old Willie B., Jr.
Born April 8, 1998, at Zoo Atlanta, Willie B., Jr., is the third offspring and the only male offspring of the legendary late Willie B., who died in 2000. He has lived most recently in a bachelor group setting. Once male gorillas are of age, it is normal for them to leave the groups in which they were born to establish their own family groups or to form bachelor groups with other males.
“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome Amari, Kambera, and Shalia to Atlanta. This is a milestone that perfectly illustrates the importance of programs like the Species Survival Plan, with accredited zoos working together for the viability of the western lowland gorilla population in North America,” said Hayley Murphy, DVM, Deputy Director. “We look forward to getting to know these three as individuals and to introducing them to their new home and a bright future for a new gorilla family.”
Born October 8, 2010, at the Buffalo Zoo in New York, 10-year-old Amari has been described by her former care team as “the sweetest of her troop.” She is said to be enthusiastic about positive reinforcement training to learn new behaviors, and she shows a preference for orange foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, orange peppers, and pumpkins. Favorite enrichment items include blankets and sheets.
Born February 19, 1999, at Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, 21-year-old Kambera has been described by her Columbus care team as “fun loving” and “intelligent” and “likes to be in charge.” She is said to take special notice of humans’ shoes and was known to check out guests’ footwear at her former home.
Born February 9, 2002, at the Toronto Zoo and arriving in Atlanta most recently from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 18-year-old Shalia has been described as “confident and cool.” Former care teams have shared that both Shalia and Kambera enjoyed the company of their silverbacks, although the two lived in different troops in Columbus.
Of the three, Amari is the only female who has not yet become a mother. Kambera and Shalia have each given birth to one prior offspring.
Willie B., Jr. has yet to meet Amari, Kambera, or Shalia. The three new arrivals will complete a routine quarantine period before gradual introductions begin.
In addition to creating rich social opportunities for the gorillas with the forming of a new troop, the family group will also have important opportunities to contribute to the long-term viability of a critically endangered species. Western lowland gorilla populations have plummeted in the wild in recent years as a result of habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade, and emerging diseases. According to the International Union for 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.
Zoo Atlanta is a pioneer in the care and study of western lowland gorillas. Twenty-four 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. Zoo Atlanta has also risen to leadership in the care of gorillas in a variety of life stages, with individuals ranging in age from 16 months to 59 years, and the Zoo’s expertise is sought and emulated by peers. The Zoo’s great ape care teams are frequently visited and shadowed by counterparts at other organizations around the world.
Research by Zoo Atlanta team members has influenced 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 supports the AZA Gorilla SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program, which focuses expertise within accredited zoos. 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.
Zoo Atlanta is open daily with protocols and procedures in place to promote wellness and prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include timed ticketing (tickets must be purchased online in advance); hand-sanitizing stations throughout grounds; and signage and other aids to encourage social distancing. Masks are currently required for general admission for all guests over the age of 10. Certain optional paid experiences, including the Endangered Species Carousel, Zoo train, and Treetop Trail, require masks for all guests ages 2 and up. Learn more or plan a visit on zooatlanta.org.
Amari, Kambera, and Shalia are not yet visible to Members and guests; stay tuned for updates as the new group’s introductions progress.
(Photo courtesy Grahm S. Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium)