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Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.

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Meet the Gorillas

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo is home to five western lowland gorillas that reside in two groups at the Great Ape House. Based on recommendations from the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), the zoo manages one gorilla troop, and one bachelor group. The two groups alternate indoor and outdoor space, depending on the time of day and the weather.

Baraka

Baraka was born at the National 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 full-grown male gorilla, or silverback, and is the largest member of our gorilla troop. He weighs nearly 400 pounds and can easily be identified by the large crest on his head. Like all adult male gorillas, he has a saddle of silver hair covering his back. Baraka has a laid-back personality, but will not hesitate to discipline the other members of the troop if needed. While it is rare to see, lucky visitors to the Great Ape House may get to see Baraka playing with Kibibi. 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.

Kwame

Kwame was born at the National Zoo in November 1999, and lives in the Zoo’s bachelor group with his brother Kojo. He is a sub-adult male, or blackback, who is growingevery day. Kwame is even starting to develop some silver hair on his lower back and shoulder area. Blackback males may not become a full grown adult silverback until they are in their late teens or early twenties. A quick learner, Kwame is eager to participate in positive reinforcement training and figure out new enrichment items.

Kojo

Kojo was born at the National Zoo in November 2001. He is the second-youngest member of the troop and one of the most playful. As a sub-adult male, or blackback, his personality is a mixture of adult and juvenile behaviors. The two brothers, Kojo and Kwame, live in their own bachelor group that is separate from the gorilla troop. Bachelor groups are found in the wild when sub-adult males become too rambunctious for their natal group and band together with other sub-adult males. Kojo is an advanced tool user and enjoys enrichment items, especially sheets and blankets. The two brothers are only two years apart in age and very similar in body size and structure. Kojo is still the smaller of the two boys, but catching up to Kwame in size.

Mandara

Mandara was born at the Lincoln Park Zoo in April 1982, and came to the National Zoo in October 1985. Mandara is sometimes referred to as “Super Mom” due to having six offspring of her own: Kejana (now at Disney), Kigali (now at Kansas’s Sedgwick County Zoo), Ktembe (now at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo), Kwame, Kojo, and Kibibi (all at National Zoo). Of her six offspring, four remain at the National Zoo: Kwame, Kojo, Kigali, and Kibibi. She is also the adoptive mother of silverback Baraka. Mandara is an extremely intelligent gorilla, who is a master of communicating her wants and needs to her caregivers. With her strong personality she is able to not only keep her juvenile Kibibi in line, but also Baraka. She is named after a mountain range in Cameroon.

Kibibi

Born at the National Zoo in January 2009, Kibibi is the youngest and smallest member of the National zoo’s gorilla troop. She is full of energy, and never stops moving for very long during the day. She can often be seen pestering her mother Mandara, or even playing with the silverback Baraka. Kibibi excels in the zoo’s cognition research program and outperforms all of the other gorillas on the touchscreen based programs. "Kibibi" means “little lady” in Swahili.

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.