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WILLIE B., JR. WILL BE A FATHER!

Female Shalia is expecting

ATLANTA – December 27, 2022 – In an exciting continuation of a uniquely Atlanta legacy, the only son of Zoo Atlanta’s most famous gorilla will become a first-time father in 2023. Shalia, a 20-year-old female in Willie B., Jr.’s troop, is expecting an infant.

The Veterinary and Animal Care Teams first detected the pregnancy in November. Gorilla gestation is around eight and a half months, with a birth window expected between early May and mid-June of 2023. Shalia has experience as a mother; she has one prior offspring living at another organization. The teams will continue to perform prenatal ultrasounds as her pregnancy progresses.

“We could not be more thrilled to announce that Shalia is expecting. To see Willie B., Jr. become a father is to experience a wonderful new chapter in the story of his father, who came to define Zoo Atlanta in his lifetime and who still lives large in the memories of countless people in our city,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “Importantly, the infant will also be a new member of a critically endangered species that needs our help now more than ever.”

Shalia and the troop’s other two females, 23-year-old Kambera and 12-year-old Amari, arrived at Zoo Atlanta in December 2020. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan® (SSP) recommended the females’ move to form a group with Willie B., Jr., who is 22. Prior to meeting Shalia, Kambera, and Amari, Willie B., Jr. lived 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.

Willie B., Jr., whose given name is Kidogo (Swahili for “a little”), is the third offspring and only male offspring of the legendary late Willie B., who died in 2000. Generations of Atlantans grew up visiting Willie B., who became an Atlanta icon and whose move from a solitary indoor environment to the nationally renowned Ford African Rain Forest in 1988 became symbolic of Zoo Atlanta’s transformation. Guests who remember Willie B. frequently note the remarkable resemblance between father and son.

Willie B., Jr.’s mother, 46-year-old Machi, lives with another senior female, 38-year-old Kuchi, in a habitat specially outfitted for the unique needs of senior gorillas.

 Shalia’s infant will be the 25th gorilla born at Zoo Atlanta since the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest. Zoo Atlanta is a pioneer in the care and study of western lowland gorillas and is home to one of the largest populations of gorillas in North America. All gorilla infants born at the Zoo 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 3 to 46 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 scientists has influenced the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced the world’s body of knowledge of gorillas, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior, and cognition.

In addition to forming a special milestone in the Willie B. family legacy at Zoo Atlanta, Shalia’s infant will also make an individual contribution 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 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.

Visit zooatlanta.org to plan a visit or to learn more about the gorilla population and conservation programs and partnerships at Zoo Atlanta.

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