By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is celebrating a special holiday arrival, a critically endangered Western lowland gorilla newborn. The baby was born on Wednesday, December 13 at 8:57 p.m. inside the Zoo’s Great EscApe habitat to first-time mother Mikella, 14, and father Togo, 29. The new “bundle of joy” arrived slightly ahead of schedule and just one day ahead of Mikella’s birthday.
“We are thrilled to welcome a new gorilla to our animal family, especially during this festive time of the year,” said Barry Downer, OKC Zoo’s deputy director. “While both mother and baby appear to be healthy, because it’s critical to allow bonding time, the Zoo’s animal care team has not been able to determine the offspring’s gender.”
For the next 72 hours, the Zoo veterinary staff and gorilla caretakers will closely monitor the pair to ensure Mikella continues to exhibit maternal behaviors, such as nursing. The event marks the 26th gorilla born at the Oklahoma City Zoo since 1974.
OKC Zoo’s gorilla troop is comprised of three generations of this family. Mikella was born at the Zoo in 2003 to 32-year-old mom, Emily and is the older sister of 2-year-old, Rubi. With Western lowland gorillas, troop dynamics and family structures are crucially important factors for learning how to rear their offspring. Growing up in a troop consisting of aunts, cousins and a younger sibling, Mikella has learned the vital skills a new mom should incorporate in order to be attentive toward young gorillas.
Father Togo, a 29-year-old silverback Western lowland gorilla, arrived at the Zoo in 2012 from the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory as part of a breeding recommendation made by the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP). SSP programs oversee the population management of select species within Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) member institutions. Togo’s troop includes females Mikella, Emily, Ndjole, Kelele and four-year-old male Leom. He previously fathered Kamina, who now resides at the Columbus Zoo, with Ndjole in 2014.
Although gorilla babies are small and tend to blend in with their mother, making new babies difficult to spot, Mikella and her newborn are currently available for viewing at Great EscApe. Watch for updates on the new gorilla’s gender and name on the OKC Zoo’s website and social media.
The birth of Mikella’s baby is extremely significant for the OKC Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums SSP for Western lowland gorillas considering this is her first offspring. Native to the Central Africa, Western lowland gorillas are threatened by disease and poaching. By 2008, the population of Western lowland gorillas was reduced by 80 percent, classifying their species as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The OKC Zoo works with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) to provide monies to help protect mountain gorillas in their native habitat. This money has been used to support operation of the Karisoke Research Center, which is the base for DFGFI’s field activities. The gorilla populations protected by DFGFI are the only wild populations of gorillas that are increasing.
The Zoo also hosts the annual Give for Gorillas Cell Phone Challenge. This program encourages the community to donate old cellphones and other electronic devices in support of gorilla conservation. The mining of coltan, a substance frequently used in small electronics, continues to cause deforestation of gorilla habitat. Net proceeds raised from the Cell Phone Challenge go to DFGFI.
Electronic devices can be donated year-round at the Zoo’s Guest Services office.
In addition to the holiday arrival of a baby gorilla, the Zoo also welcomed Francesca, a 26-year-old pygmy hippopotamus, earlier this month. Another Western lowland gorilla, Ndjole, is expected to give birth in summer 2018 and Asian elephant Asha will deliver her baby around November 2018.
This holiday season visit to the Oklahoma City Zoo, a proud member of Oklahoma City’s Adventure District located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $11 for adults, and $8 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free.