#GorillaStory: Snacktime With Zahra

This update was written by primate keeper Valerie Schultz.

Our 7-month-old Western lowland gorilla Zahra is fitting right into the troop. She has won the hearts of her keepers—and the many visitors who come to the Great Ape House just to see her!

Although she still depends heavily on her mother Calaya, our gorilla infant is hitting every milestone she should. Interestingly, gorillas physically develop much more quickly than baby humans. A 7-month-old human infant would likely be in the first phases of learning how to scoot and crawl, but Zahra been walking and standing wobbily for a few months now.

She is becoming quite the little independent lady… as long as the keepers aren’t watching! On several occasions, I’ve noticed her using her little arms to climb on the mesh quite far from Calaya. When I first turn the corner, she spots me and quickly dashes back to the safety of her mother. But as soon as I get closer and Zahra can see that I’m one of the people she interacts with almost every day, she calms down and realizes she’s safe.

Similar to a 7-month-old human infant, Zahra is in the ‘introduction’ phase of solid foods. She is a bit too young to have her own diet plan since she is still primarily consuming her mother’s milk, but the primate keeper team has started to introduce her to bits of different solid foods. Calaya is not the best sharer, but Zahra will try to sneakily take food from her mother whenever she gets an opportunity. Nothing around Zahra is safe from her little hands!

Recently, Zahra managed to swipe most of a fruitsicle from her mother, and you can tell she was a happy little girl while she was sucking on the frozen fruit juice cube:

Meanwhile, Calaya has been lessening her ‘grip’ on Zahra—although she is still very protective of her newborn around the rest of the troop. Zahra’s newfound enthusiasm for exploration means she is moving and exploring more independently, but Calaya always keeps a watchful eye on her daughter when the other members of the troop are around. Mandara and Kibibi tend to keep their distance, and while Baraka certainly doesn’t mind being near Zahra, Calaya typically intervenes before they get a chance to interact. 

Moke remains very interested in Zahra. He can be quite mischievous and will try to take his sister away from Calaya, but he’ll also sit next to Calaya and let Zahra crawl up to him when she is ready. On multiple occasions I’ve seen Zahra and Moke sitting together with their mother, which is very sweet.

Now that we’re in the coldest part of the year, our gorilla troops is spending most of their time indoors where it’s warm. Although our building is kept at a set temperature, we do give the troop lots of blankets and bedding material to make comfortable nests with. The gorillas love to hang out in the blankets… especially Moke, who sometimes covers himself and runs after Calaya and his little sister with the blanket over his head! That always ends up in a fit of laughter from the whole troop.

Planning to visit Zahra at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo? Guests can swing by the Great Ape House from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily, where you can meet all the Zoo's primates and learn how to help protect these species in the wild.