In the lead up to Christmas, Bristol Zoo Gardens in England welcomed a new member to their gorilla enclosure. The newborn is the second baby western lowland gorilla to be born at the zoo in just six months. The as-of-yet unnamed new arrival joins baby Hasani, who was named by public poll in November shortly after her birth.
Touni, the newborn’s mom, gave birth naturally in the early hours of December 22 in the Gorilla House with dad, Jock, and the rest of the troop nearby as it happened. Keepers were delighted to arrive the next morning to find the baby being cradled by Touni, whose last child, Ayana, was born back in 2017.
“Touni is an excellent mother and she is taking very good care of her baby,” said Nigel Simpson, Bristol Zoological Society’s Head of Animal Collections, in a statement. “All the early signs are positive, and the baby looks to be strong and healthy. We will be keeping a very close eye on both mother and baby as these early days are so important.”
The birth represents an important milestone in safeguarding the future of western lowland gorillas who are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. While the most numerous and widespread of all gorilla subspecies, with populations found in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea, their numbers have suffered greatly in recent years following outbreaks of the Ebola virus which is deadly for humans and non-human primates alike.
“This is also great news for Bristol Zoological Society, which operates both Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, as we are part of an internationally important breeding and conservation programme,” continued Simpson. “It is simply wonderful to see a new-born gorilla, they are so charismatic and such an iconic species.”
Touni’s bundle of joy joins a troop of seven other gorillas at the zoo, all of which have been enrolled in a global breeding program working with other wildlife institutions to maintain genetic diversity within its captive animals. The Bristol Zoological Society – which owns Bristol Zoo Gardens – also champions the species, with several conservation projects centered around protecting western lowland gorillas in Monte Alén National Park, Equatorial Guinea. These wild animals are vulnerable to poaching for their meat and the pet trade, as babies are often stolen to be sold on to exotic pet enthusiasts. There are also fears that an outbreak of COVID-19 among these animals could be catastrophic for its wild populations.