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#GorillaStory: Moke's on the Move

  • Western lowland gorillas Calaya and Moke (center) with Kibibi (foreground) and Baraka (background).
  • Western lowland gorilla Calaya runs with Moke.
  • Western lowland gorilla Mandara pats Moke on the head while Calaya supervises.
  • Western lowland gorilla Calaya cradles Moke as Kibibi looks on.

Moke’s on the move!

The 12-day-old western lowland gorilla at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo continues to do well. Warmer weather and sunshine graced Washington, D.C. this week, so primate keepers gave Baraka, Calaya, Moke, Mandara and Kibibi a chance to soak up some rays in the Great Ape House outdoor yard.

“Calaya negotiates the yard very well, even with Moke in tow,” said primate keeper Melba Brown. “She climbs to the top of the wooden platform and will sit and look out with Moke clinging tightly to her chest. Calaya will do a behavior that we call a display—running quickly from one end of the yard to the other—while holding Moke tightly in her arm. It is encouraging to see that her sassiness is back!”


As mentioned in the previous #GorillaStory update, the bond between Calaya, Mandara and Kibibi has grown since Moke’s birth, and the trio are never far from one another. Though Baraka tends to explore the habitat on his own, keepers have observed him approaching Calaya and staring intently at Moke.

“The troop continues to get along swimmingly,” says Brown. “One thing that took us by surprise is how alert and focused Moke is at such a young age. He takes frequent naps, but when Moke is awake, he will look the other gorillas—and us—in the eye. Kibibi is never far from Moke and shows a lot of interest in playing with him. We have seen him reach out to her, as well, so it appears that the desire to play is mutual! Whenever Moke lets out a loud cry, Mandara and Kibibi rush over to Calaya to see if she needs help. But, Calaya is a pro and very gentle when cleaning or inspecting Moke.”

Earlier this week, Brown began working with Calaya to participate in milk sample collection for the Zoo’s milk repository. For this training, Brown asks Calaya to sit at the mesh while she manually expresses milk. As with all positive reinforcement training at the Zoo, Calaya’s participation is voluntary—she has the choice to engage in the training session or walk away. If she chooses to participate, she receives a favorite treat as a reward. The training is still in an early stage, though Brown reports that Calaya is desensitized to the milk collection cap. The biggest challenge for Calaya is deciding how to hold Moke during the collection process! (Mandara also participated in this study following Kibibi’s birth in 2009.)

Calaya’s milk supply is extremely abundant,” says Brown. “Moke often has copious amounts of milk around his mouth, which indicates that he continues to nurse well. We are confident that Calaya is supplying enough milk to both feed Moke and participate in this study.”

The Zoo houses the most extensive collection of exotic animal milks in the U.S. Scientists analyze the samples for nutrients, minerals, hormones and other factors that protect infants and help them grow. This information assists researchers and colleagues in their efforts to raise neonatal mammals (and birds!) that may need hand-rearing. 

Follow the Zoo’s updates on Moke and the western lowland gorilla troop on FacebookTwitter and Instagram with the hashtag #GorillaStory.