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Meet the Gorillas

The Zoo's western lowland gorillas live in one group at the Great Ape House. One of the adult females is the mother of the other female, the two young males, and a female baby born on January 10, 2009. The adult male, the silverback, is the father of the gorilla born in 2009. The group may be in the outdoor yard or inside, depending on the time of day and the weather. Seven baby gorillas have been born at the National Zoo since 1991.


Mandara - female

Mandara was born at the Lincoln Park Zoo in April 1982, and came to the National Zoo in October 1985. Often referred to as “super-mom,” Mandara has had six offspring: Kejana (now at Disney), Kigali, Ktembe (now at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo), Kwame, Kojo, and a baby born on January 10, 2009. She is also the adoptive mother of silverback Baraka. Mandara is an extremely intelligent gorilla. She is a master of communicating her wants and needs to her caregivers. She has a strong personality, which aids her in her position as the group’s dominant female. She is named after a mountain range in Cameroon.

Distinguishing features:
Mandara is the smaller adult female group and can often be seen spending time near her kids, especially Kibibi. She has a notch in her left ear, and she has large breasts. When she is indoors, her favorite resting spot is one of the big hammocks.

Kigali – female

Kigali was born at the Zoo in May 1994 to Mandara and Gus. She is the half-sister of Kojo, Kwame, and Baraka. Kigali splits her time between being the peace keeper and instigator in the group. And some days she is very helpful to her caregivers, while on other days chooses to be challenging. She is very smart and demonstrates awareness of others’ moods and intentions. She is named after the capital of Rwanda.

Distinguishing features:
Kigali is a slender and dark female, easily recognizable by the reddish hair atop her head. She does not like to be far from her groupmates, particularly Baraka. She can often be seen perched at the very top of the trees indoors.

Baraka - male

Baraka was born at the Zoo in April 1992 to Haloko and Gus, but was raised by Mandara, who was discovered carrying him only a few hours after his birth. In 2004 he moved to the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, but returned in 2006 to assume leadership of the National Zoo’s gorilla group. Baraka is a young silverback who, despite his laid-back personality, still commands respect from all of his groupmates. He maintains a good balance of keeping the gorillas in line, while still offering attention to the females and engaging in bouts of play with the juvenile males. Baraka’s full name, Baraka ya Mwelu, means “blessing of light” and is made up of Swahili (Baraka ya) and an unknown bantu language (Mwelu) spoken in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.

Distinguishing features:
Baraka is a silverback male gorilla. At 375 pounds, he is easily recognizable as the group’s largest gorilla. His large head has a pronounced crest, and like all adult males he has a saddle of silver hair covering his back. Baraka is often centrally located in the group, and likes to maintain a position where he can see and keep tabs on all of the other gorillas.


Kwame – male

Kwame was born at the Zoo in November 1999 to Mandara and Kuja. He is a sub-adult blackback male who, much like a teenage boy, is learning to grow into his adult role while still maintaining his playful and submissive personality. Kwame is a quick learner and is eager to please his caregivers. His favorite activity seems to be playing and wrestling with his younger brother Kojo. His name means “born on a Saturday” in the Akan language, spoken in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Distinguishing features:

Kwame is the second largest gorilla in the group and is growing every day. He is tall and lean and has very defined muscles. He is most often seen spending time with Kojo or exploring (and hoarding!) new enrichment items.


Kojo – male

Kojo was born at the Zoo in November 2001 to Mandara and Kuja. He is by far the most active and most playful gorilla in the group. As a juvenile male, he still maintains a “baby” role in the group and gets away with a lot of behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated by an adult gorilla! He is very eager to participate in training or research activities and can often be seen hurrying around the cage to find items to trade his caregivers for a treat. His favorite playmate is older brother Kwame. His name means “born on a Monday” in the Akan language, spoken in Ghana and Ivory Coast.

Distinguishing features:
Kojo is the second smallest gorilla in the group. His energy and impressive acrobatics in the trees and across the ground impress caregivers and visitors alike. Like his brother, he is very interested in exploring new enrichment items, especially those that require tool use, at which he has become a pro.


Kibibi – female

Kibibi was born at the Zoo on January 10, 2009, making her the youngest member of the gorilla group. Her mother is Mandara and her father is silverback Baraka. Her name means “little lady” in Swahili. Kibibi loves to climb and play and spend time with her brother Kojo. Though she is still nursing, she loves to try new foods. Her favorites are grapes, bananas, and cooked sweet potato. She is energetic, inquisitive, and still at times uncoordinated.

Distinguishing features:
Kibibi is the smallest gorilla in the group, weighing a little less than 30 pounds. She has pink fingertips on her right hand. She can most often be seen clinging to her mother, Mandara or playing and exploring nearby.

National Zoo Diet

In the morning, the gorillas are fed together as a group. Food items are cut up and spread throughout the enclosures encouraging gorillas to forage as they would in the wild. In the summer food is scattered in the outdoor yard, in the cooler months food is hidden in the hay. In the afternoon, the gorillas are separated for their diet, to insure that each individual gets his or her share of preferred food items such as fruit and chow.

The morning diet is generally made up of vegetables, which may include kale, celery, green beans, carrots, and sweet potato. Evening foods include more greens such as romaine, kale, cabbage, or dandelion along with the fruits and vegetables du jour. Bananas, apples, oranges, mango, grapes, melon, and papaya are often included. Onions, broccoli, turnips, white potatoes, squash, cucumbers, and beets are also staples.

Throughout the day, the gorillas are given additional forage items, such as popcorn, peanuts, or jungle mix. Browse (fresh tree trimmings) is given daily and includes bamboo, bradford pear, willow, mulberry, or maple.

Life Span

Gorillas may live about 35 years in the wild, and beyond 50 in captivity. in zoos.