By Rachel Davis
Kudzoo, a 22-year-old western lowland gorilla, is expecting an infant. The pregnancy was confirmed via ultrasound, and the Animal Management and Veterinary Teams detected a fetus on ultrasound in early April. A birth is expected in September 2016. The infant will be the third offspring of Kudzoo and 26-year-old silverback Taz and a grandchild of Kudzoo’s famous father, the late Willie B.
Every birth is critical for the western lowland gorilla population in North America. In the more than 50 years since the arrival of Willie B. in Atlanta in 1961, the stakes for his species have climbed higher than ever before. The western lowland gorilla is now classified as critically endangered. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over a 25-year period, the combined threats of poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade, habitat loss and emerging diseases such as Ebola have decimated western lowland gorilla populations by 60 percent, with declines of as much as 90 percent in some parts of their range in western Africa.
“We’re delighted about welcoming another baby gorilla to the Zoo Atlanta family, in the continuing story of one of the Zoo’s greatest legacies – a legacy that began with Willie B.,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “But the most important legacy is the one we owe to western lowland gorillas, now critically endangered, and more in need of our help and our voice than ever.”
Kudzoo’s infant will be the 23rd gorilla born at Zoo Atlanta since the opening of the landmark Ford African Rain Forest in 1988 – an event largely inspired by Atlanta’s connection to Willie B. Willie B., who passed away in 2000, remains the best-known animal figure in Zoo Atlanta history and was a catalyst for what has since evolved into a nationally-recognized program for the care and study of gorillas.
In 2011, the 50th anniversary year of its gorilla program, Zoo Atlanta received the prestigious Edward H. Bean Award for Significant Achievement from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for its long-term commitment to the species. Research published by Zoo Atlanta staff has influenced industry-wide improvements in the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced understanding of gorilla biology, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior and cognition. Zoo Atlanta is the headquarters of the Great Ape Heart Project, the world’s first effort to understand, diagnose, and treat cardiac disease across all four great ape taxa: gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos. Zoo Atlanta also serves as the headquarters of its primary partner in gorilla conservation, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, and the Zoo provides pro-bono space and resources to support the Fossey Fund’s work for gorillas and their habitats in Africa.
Currently home to 20 individuals, Zoo Atlanta houses one of the largest populations of gorillas in North America. The Zoo is also home to three of the world’s oldest gorillas – Shamba, 57; Ozzie, 55; and Choomba, 53 – and as such has become a leader in the emerging field of geriatric gorilla care.