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#GorillaStory: ‘Big Boy’ Moke

This update was written by primate keeper Melba Brown.

Western lowland gorilla infant Moke is growing bigger and stronger by the day. His movements are more fluid now, and he is able to walk without too much of a wobble.

His mother, Calaya, has clearly taken note of this. During a recent group encounter, Calaya approached Kibibi and followed her into another enclosure, leaving Moke unattended. I watched Moke to see what his reaction would be. He turned and looked at the area where Calaya and Kibibi went. After less than a minute, Calaya returned to collect Moke. It appears that she sees her son as somewhat of a big boy who can handle some minimal time without her.

5-month-old western lowland gorilla Moke sits in a pile of hay and eats leafy greens

Moke and Kibibi continue to have frequent play sessions. Last, week, Baraka joined in on the fun. He walked up to his son and gently poked him with one finger, and Moke fell over in a dramatic fashion. Then, Baraka made his way over to Kibibi and poked her with his finger as well. She, like Moke, collapsed in delight. At moments like these, it is easy to see humor among the troop members!

Gorillas Kibibi and 5.5-month-old Moke playing

We received a comment from Facebook about last week’s #GorillaStory update, in which Baraka gently yet firmly disciplined Moke during a training session. He did so for one reason only—Moke was getting too close to Baraka’s one-on-one time with me and his positive reinforcement grapes. Baraka nudged Moke to discourage him from interrupting the training session. Contrast his reaction to that of Calaya when Mandara or Kibibi attempt to enter the area during a training session. She makes her displeasure very clear with bark-like vocalizations and facial cues—and they know not to come near.

Last week, I mentioned that all of the gorilla subspecies, including western lowland gorillas, are critically endangered. This means that they are at risk of becoming extinct in the wild if actions are not taken to secure their survival.

Zoonotic diseases—ones that can be transmitted between humans and animals—can prove deadly for gorillas. They can be susceptible to influenza (flu), the common cold and Ebola virus, which has recently surfaced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The World Health Organization is monitoring the Ebola outbreak closely. If the disease were to infect gorillas, it could decimate groups with alacrity.

Luckily, there are wonderful groups working to help gorillas, including University of California, Davis’ Gorilla Doctors program, which provides medical care to mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Last December, Global Health Program veterinarian Dawn Zimmerman traveled to Rwanda to assist their dedicated team of veterinarians. I encourage you to read about the amazing work they are doing in her notes from the field.  

Gorilla Moke 5.5 months old.

Poaching, or illegal hunting, also threatens wild gorilla populations. Gorillas unknowingly encounter snares and other traps while they are peacefully walking about their surroundings. If a silverback happens upon one, it has a negative impact upon his entire troop. These traps can cause gorillas great pain, infection, loss of the limb ensnared and even death in some instances.

Certain areas of the world and cultures view gorilla body parts as a commodity. Poachers sell gorilla hands, feet, skulls, pelts and other body parts for trophy display, charms, décor, apparel, traditional medicine, and the list goes on.

Western lowland gorilla Moke at 5.5 months old.

One way we can all help save gorillas is by being savvy shoppers. Steer clear of purchasing items made from gorillas—or any endangered species. You can find out which species are endangered by visiting the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s website.

Awareness is a great first step to saving endangered species—including gorillas!

Planning to visit Moke? Winter hours began Oct. 1, and the Great Ape House is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Don’t miss the gorilla keeper chat at its new time: 1 p.m.! Check the Daily Programs page for the full schedule of animal encounters.