The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium welcomed a new baby gorilla on June 13 into its long-standing surrogacy program.
Born on Sept. 9, 2017, at the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin, Zahra, a young female, was transferred to the Columbus Zoo to be placed with a surrogate mother after both her mother and father passed away in April. Since her parents’ passing, Zahra has been participating in human-assisted rearing with the animal care team in Milwaukee, who have stayed with her around the clock.
With the goal to have Zahra raised as part of a gorilla family, the Milwaukee County Zoo animal care team consulted with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla Species Survival Plan ® (SSP).
The SSP recommended that Zahra be placed at another zoo that houses a stable family unit consisting of a female gorilla to act as a surrogate mother, a tolerant silverback male, and other females with offspring of varying ages. The SSP, which includes institutional representatives from other participating facilities, worked in collaboration with the Milwaukee County Zoo and Columbus Zoo and decided it would be in Zahra’s best interests to be introduced into the Columbus Zoo’s successful surrogacy program to give Zahra an opportunity to develop, grow and thrive in the years ahead.
“This is really the best option for Zahra, and we’re excited to see her start a new chapter in her life, and set her up as best we can so she continues to develop into a fully functioning adult gorilla,” said Milwaukee County Zoo Director Chuck Wikenhauser. “The Columbus Zoo has an excellent reputation for surrogate-raising gorillas, and will serve as the best, supportive home for Zahra’s growth, development and long-term care.”
Zahra will be under 24/7 care by the Columbus Zoo’s human assisted rearing team until introductions with a potential surrogate mother begin. While the Zoo’s animal care team will also take cues from Zahra to determine when she’s ready to transition into each important phase, the goal is to place her with the surrogate as quickly as possible so she can be with other gorillas.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has been a pioneer of gorilla surrogacy for more than 30 years. The Zoo has been recognized internationally for their care of gorillas in social groups, including expanding social groups through the placement of young gorillas with surrogate mothers. Over the years, nine gorillas born at the Columbus Zoo have been raised in the surrogacy program, and, including Zahra, an additional seven have been sent from other zoos. The Columbus Zoo has potential surrogate mothers in mind for Zahra; however the final decision regarding the surrogate mother selection will ultimately depend on the animals’ behaviors once Zahra has been introduced. She will likely become a part of silverback, Mac’s, troop, which consists of females, Kinyani, Mo’Ana, Toni, Tabibu, and 3-year-old Kamina, and young males, Kamoli, who is 5 years old, and JJ, who will soon be turning 2 years old.
“There are many important details to consider in gorilla surrogacy, and we are proud to offer our animal care team’s expertise, care, and commitment to ensure that Zahra’s well-being continues to be top priority,” said Columbus Zoo President/CEO Tom Stalf. “In addition the great care the Milwaukee County Zoo team provided to Zahra and now our animal care team’s assistance, the surrogate mother and her troop will have their own integral role. While Zahra has already experienced tough challenges in her young life, she is being placed in a caring environment where she can thrive physically and socially while also helping to contribute to the success story for the future of this incredible species that continues to face many threats in their native range.”
Western lowland gorillas are listed as critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species™.
Habitat loss and deforestation have historically been the primary cause for declining populations of Africa’s great apes, but experts now agree that the illegal commercial bushmeat trade has surpassed habitat loss as the primary threat to ape populations – particularly for western lowland gorillas.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a proud supporter of several gorilla conservation projects in Central Africa, from research to rescue and rehabilitation missions. In 1991, the Columbus Zoo also founded Partners In Conservation (PIC), a grassroots effort to protect African wildlife through humanitarian projects. Over the last 27 years, PIC has supported more than 60 projects focused in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
For more information about the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s commitment to global conservation, please visit https://globalimpact.columbuszoo.org/about.