Monday, December 22, 2014

Gorilla his dreams: Zoo's Jabari likes new mate

Jabari (front) and Kira, who arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo in early July 2013, have given officials reason to hope for the first gorilla baby in nearly three decades.
Jabari (front) and Kira, who arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo in early July 2013, have given officials reason to hope for the first gorilla baby in nearly three decades.
Jabari (front) and Kira, who arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo in early July 2013, have given officials reason to hope for the first gorilla baby in nearly three decades. Gallery: Gorilla his dreams: Zoo's Jabari likes new mate

Visitors to the Philadelphia Zoo can glimpse a blossoming romance that's hoped will result in the first birth of a gorilla there in nearly three decades.

Newcomer Kira "is clearly interested" in silverback Jabari, explained Meredith Bastian, curator of primates.

And apparently the feeling is mutual, since they've already, ahem, exhibited breeding behaviors in what keepers call "bedrooms."

They did the deed, but did he plant the seed?

"I wouldn’t hold my hopes out for a couple of weeks,” said general curator Kevin Murphy.

A human pregnancy test kit could give the answer -- if they can manage to get a good urine sample.

And Kira and Jabari are still just getting acquainted, Bastian said.

Public displays of affection could be forthcoming.

"Great apes kiss and hug each other just like humans, some more than others," she said.

Some also aren't shy about publically monkeying around in more intimate ways, judging from YouTube videos of gorillas at other zoos.

About a month ago, the zoo got Kira, who turns 14 on Friday, from Boston's Franklin Park Zoo as part of a carefully managed national breeding program. 

The arranged marriage, so to speak, was set up with 28-year-old Jabari in mind, then one of just four Western lowland gorillas (species name Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in Philly.

At first, Kira was quarantined, examined by a vet, allowed to explore a bit on her own, and then had a chance to see, hear and smell the other two in her troop from behind a mesh curtain.

She apparently was happy with what she saw, because she was soon sharing food -- mostly greens, occasionally some fruit -- with Jabari and Honi, a female.

"This is one of the smoothest introductions of any animal I’ve ever seen actually," Bastian said.

Honi, 18, is being given contraceptives because she's not a desirable genetic match.

Gorillas are criticallly endangered in the wild, and fewer than 300 live in North American zoos,  so the Species Survival Plan works to keep the gene pool as diverse as possible for as long as possible, the zoo officials explained.

If the match is successful, expect Kira and Jabari to remain together. "We don’t arbitrarily break up family groups," Bastian said.

The zoo's last gorilla baby was Chaka, a male now at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in South Carolina.

The Philadelphia Zoo's two other gorillas form a separate bachelor troop. Louis, 14, is Jabari's St. Louis-born son, and Kuchimba, 11, Honi's son, was born at the Bronx Zoo.

For more, see PhiladelphiaZoo.org.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

Kevin Murphy, general curator

Peter Mucha Philly.com
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