Exactly four weeks ago today, an infant gorilla was born at London Zoo. His arrival not only marks the end of a 22 year wait for the keepers; but this lucky fella has just inherited one of the most sought-after postcodes in London.
Even for newborn gorillas there’s a lottery where you end up, because it all depends on mum’s fortune. But, being around the corner from Primrose Hill isn’t bad going!
I was born in south-east London and some parts of the borough were pretty rough in the 198o’s. My parents were very strict when it came to where my brother and I could hang out. Let’s look at East Dulwich as an example. What a transformation. Being so close to Nunhead it was very edgy then and the park was a definite no-no unless accompanied by an adult. The houses were shabby; there were some seriously dodgy pubs; one hairdressers; a baker; a chippie; lots of betting shops; a few Indian restaurants and a pharmacy (my Dads!). No-one would have envisaged it morphing into the bijou nappy-valley it now is. What a difference a couple of decades make.
If we wind clock forward for this little black ball of fluff, he’ll have grown into a 25-stone silver back. Who know’s whether he’ll still be here at London Zoo or whether he’ll have a son of daughter of his own.
There are three different species of gorilla indigenous to Africa – western; eastern and the mountain gorillas. The newborn is a western lowland gorilla; a sub- species of the western gorilla. His relatives can be found scattered throughout Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
The little ‘un still hasn’t been named yet. I do hope they pick something suitable but also nice. When I was staying on Ngamba Island in Uganda, the caregivers told me they gave the last a chimp born there, the name Surprise! The pregnancy was unexpected. Can you imagine the ribbing you’d get in the playground if your Mum or Dad called you that?
Mjukuu, the mother, is like a lot of modern women today, she’s a single parent. Unfortunately her partner Yeboah died in March, after an infection.
Gorillas are not as robust as you might think. Yes they can grow to an incredible size, but they don’t breed well or live long in captivity.
The infant may be celebrating his month-old birthday today; but the keepers are still cautious about his progress and his safety.
There’s a delicate introduction programme taking place between the young male of the group, Kesho, who’s 11 years old and mum and son. Kesho was also born in captivity. He was brought over from Dublin Zoo, with the hope that he develops into a silver-back to lead Mjukuu and the two other female gorillas Effie and Zaire. Gorilla males usually mature around age of 12-13.
It’s essential that a gorilla group is centred on a dominant male because without such a leader, the female grouping is likely to split apart in acrimonious bickering. Yes even in the animal kingdom, bitching and snipping exist.
In the wild, when a new male takes over an existing harem, there is a danger he will kill any infants fathered by the previous leader. It’s how they ensure their genes survive. So Kesho’s introduction and his reactions have to be watched closely.
When I rang the zoo to check on the infant’s progress I was told by the keeper Daniel Simmonds: “He’s doing very well. He’s feeding and suckling from his mother (Mjukuu) who is proving to be a great mum. Our other two female gorillas, Effie and Zaire, have shown a lot of interest in him too and the group is getting along well.”
Let’s hope the little fella continues to be in a safe pair of hands and is able to celebrate a few more birthdays to come.
If you missed his arrival, here’s a short clip of him and his doting mum. All footage and photographs are courtesy of the Zoological Society London (ZSL) – I do with they’d used a tripod, the footage is a bit shaky!