Celebrate the birth of our newest western lowland gorilla: Adopt a Species!
On Sunday, April 15, at 6:25 p.m., we welcomed our seventh western lowland gorilla at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute! His name, Moke (pronounced “mo-KEY”) means “little one” or “junior” in the Lingala language.
When Calaya went into labor around 1:30 p.m. that afternoon, the members of her troop—silverback male Baraka (Moke’s father), female adult Mandara, and sub-adult female Kibibi—rallied around Calaya. They began pleasure rumbling, a vocalization that indicates they were content.
“To our utter surprise, Calaya joined in and began pleasure rumbling, even in the throes of labor,” said animal keeper Melba Brown. “The supportive environment seemed to make a big difference in terms of her birthing experience.”
Animal care staff were surprised at how quickly Calaya and her infant bonded, given that Moke is her first offspring. She cleaned the baby, cleared his nasal passages, and gently cradled him—exactly what the primate team hoped she would do.
“Calaya is an excellent and attentive mother,” Brown says. “Moke is very vocal and his squeals can be quite loud. We are encouraged to see that she is cradling him. He nurses frequently and tends to fall asleep right afterwards. He has good strength, and is able to cling to mom’s chest and hair well as she takes him around the habitat. Occasionally, she will set him down on the ground, be she is always close by to tend to him. When he is a bit older, she will put him on her back to carry him around.”
Since Moke’s birth, Calaya, Mandara and Kibibi have grown together as a trio. Before he was born, Calaya would build a nest and sleep alone. Now, when keepers arrive at the Zoo, it is not uncommon to see the three of them (plus Moke) resting in the same area.
“Mandara and Kibibi are enthralled with Moke, and Calaya has been very tolerant of their curiosity,” Brown said. “On Monday, Calaya allowed Kibibi to approach and give Moke a quick kiss on his face. Mandara even held his arm for a moment! Baraka, for his part, sticks quite close to the group. And although he hasn’t interacted directly with Moke, we can tell he is content because he is still pleasure rumbling.”
The Great Ape House is open to Zoo visitors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Calaya always has access to off-exhibit areas and may choose to spend time in a more private location. The exhibit is composed of many layers of thick glass, which muffles the sound from the public area. The primate team is monitoring her behavior very closely and will make adjustments if needed, but for the moment, Calaya is not showing any signs that that Zoo visitors are a disturbance to her.
“It is quite rare for a Zoo to have two primate infants, so we are very fortunate to have Moke and our 1.5-year-old Bornean orangutan infant, Redd, in our care,” Brown said. “It’s extremely exciting to be able to watch them grow. Both western lowland gorillas and Bornean orangutans are critically endangered in the wild, so we encourage people to visit our littlest great apes, fall in love with them (as we have), and learn how they can help conserve their wild counterparts.”