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Zoo welcomes baby gorilla

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Photo courtesy of Milwaukee County Zoo

The Milwaukee County Zoo recently announced the birth of a new baby gorilla, Zahra, which is Swahili for “blossom,” that made her way into the world Sept. 9th. She was born to mother Naku and father Cassius. Zahra is a healthy, 4-pound newborn that spends her day nursing, sleeping and clinging closely to her mom’s stomach as all newborn gorillas do for their first six months of life, according to zoo reports. 

“Births are great for the zoo as well as the animals in the collection,” said Dawn Kruger, the ape and primate zookeeper at the zoo. “The birth of Zahra is allowing us to exhibit a very natural gorilla family group. In the wild, gorilla groups generally consist of a silverback male, several females as well as their offspring.”

This type of lifestyle should help visitors to understand the family dynamic more clearly. 

Currently, Zahara and her gorilla family can be seen on public exhibit from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day of the week except Monday and Thursday. It’s the Zoo’s hope that this time will be gradually extended as Zahara and her family become more comfortable being watched. Besides Zahara and her parents, the family also includes female Shalia and her offspring Sulaiman, a 3-year-old male. Cassius is protective of Naku and the baby, while Sulaiman is curious, excited and eager to interact with the new addition.

Kruger notices an increase in zoo visits when there is a newborn.

“Both children and adults enjoy coming out to see the newborn, and they enjoy watching them as they grow up,” Kruger said.

And that audience includes plenty of Marquette students.

“I’ve never gone to the Milwaukee Zoo before, but I love baby animals, so hearing about this definitely made me put this as a future activity,” said Krissie Sullivan, a sophomore in the College of Communication.

Jennifer Diliberti-Shea, the Milwaukee Zoo’s public relations coordinator, said that attendance is especially high for Zahara in comparison to other newborn animals because she is an endangered western lowland gorilla.

“This might be the only time visitors will be able to see such a precious newborn outside of traveling to Africa,” Diliberti said. “She will serve as an ambassador for her wild counterparts educating the public about the conservation of this species.”

Western lowland gorillas such as Zahara live in the tropical rainforests of Central Africa and are critically endangered. The species faces increasing threats from disease, wildlife trade, poaching and human encroachment. Over the past 20 years, more than 60 percent of western lowland gorilla populations have seen a marked decline.

There are many threats facing gorillas including human population growth. “Some gorillas are being exposed to diseases, such as Ebola, due to their close proximity to humans,” said Kruger. “Other issues they face include the loss of habitat due to the mining of the metal coltan, which is used in electronics, such as cell phones and laptops.”

When Zoo guests come to visit Zahra, it is the hope of the zookeepers that visitors will make a connection to gorillas and want to learn more about their species, as well as the challenges that endangered gorillas face in the wild. The zoo’s hope is that this will cause people to act, and do what they can to help endangered species of all kinds.

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