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Welcome Machi the gorilla back to Atlanta!

Zoo Atlanta welcomes Machi, a 45-year-old female western lowland gorilla, back to her hometown. Machi arrived in Atlanta on March 29, 2021, from Zoo Knoxville.

Machi came to Zoo Atlanta with her mother, Choomba, in 1988 from Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. She lived at the Zoo until 2013, when she moved to Zoo Knoxville on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP).

Western lowland gorillas are considered geriatric after the age of 40. In recent times, Machi has been experiencing challenging bouts of arthritis. This is not unusual for gorillas, who experience many of the same issues aging humans do. Zoo Atlanta is a leader in working with geriatric gorillas – a relatively new area of focus in zoological gorilla care. The Zoo is home to its own geriatric group: Ozzie, who turns 60 in 2021 and is the world’s oldest male gorilla on record; Choomba, 58; and female Kuchi, 36. The Zoo’s Animal Care and Veterinary Teams have made impressive advances in geriatric gorilla care. The Gorilla Care Team focuses on creating habitats and social environments that allow the gorillas to thrive, and gorilla facilities have been redesigned with age in mind. Given Zoo Atlanta’s established leadership and long-term experience in this area, Zoo Atlanta and Zoo Knoxville collaborated on Machi’s move to Atlanta.

“We are very happy to welcome Machi back to Zoo Atlanta. Our Gorilla Care Team has demonstrated success with the care and comfort of aging gorillas and work to ensure that their golden years are healthy and enriching,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “In welcoming Machi back, we’re also thrilled that she will get to rejoin Choomba and other gorillas she knows.”

Machi will join the Zoo’s geriatric group, where she will be reunited not only with her mother but with Ozzie and Kuchi, both of whom she has lived with before. In her earlier years at Zoo Atlanta, she was part of Ozzie’s group and is the mother of two of his children. Machi was later a member of Willie B.’s group and is the mother of Willie B., Jr., the only son of the legendary late silverback; Kuchi was also a member of that group.

Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered, with wild populations plummeting 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. The Zoo is home to one of the largest populations of gorillas in North America, with 20 individuals. 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 an adopted gorilla mother. 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.

Machi is currently adjusting to her new surroundings in the Zoo’s behind-the-scenes gorilla complex. Stay tuned for updates on when Members and guests will be able to see her in her outdoor habitat with her new group.

Zoo Atlanta is open daily with new protocols and procedures in place to promote wellness, including timed ticketing; hand-sanitizing stations throughout grounds; and signage and other aids to encourage social distancing. Masks are required for ages 2 and up for general admission and all in-Zoo experiences.

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(Photo credit: Tennessee Trails Photography)

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