The Smithsonian’s National Zoo celebrated the birth of a male baby western lowland gorilla this weekend—the first time in nine years that staff at the zoo have managed to get the critically endangered species to breed in captivity, the institution wrote in a blog post.
According to the zoo, the baby is named “Moke,” which translates to junior or little one in the Lingala language, and staff are being cautious to give him and his 15-year-old mother Calaya as much space as possible:
Animal care staff have observed Calaya nursing the infant who has been clinging closely to his mother, and they are cautiously optimistic that the newborn will thrive. Animal care staff are leaving Calaya to bond with and care for her baby without interference. The Great Ape House is closed to provide Calaya a quiet space to bond with her infant.
“The birth of this western lowland gorilla is very special and significant, not only to our Zoo family but also to this critically endangered species as a whole,” primate curator Meredith Bastian added in a statement. “The primate team’s goal was to set Calaya up for success as best we could, given that she is a first-time mother. Doing so required great patience and dedication on the part of my team, and I am very proud of them and Calaya.”
Per the Washington Post, staff at the zoo said other gorillas watched the event and Moke’s 26-year-old, 450-pound father Baraka issued a “pleasure rumble” after the delivery was complete. Bastian told the paper Baraka stayed in the room during the delivery, but “was at a respectful distance.” The paper added:
Calaya and Baraka hit it off right away, [assistant curator of primates Becky Malinsky] said recently, and they mated within an hour of meeting. “It was love at first sight,” she said.
Even before they met, when he could only gaze at her from behind the glass of the enclosure where she was temporarily quarantined, she caught his eye.
“We’re pretty certain that Baraka was taken by her, just based on his behaviors,” Malinsky said.
Trainers had to prepare Calaya by presenting her with photos of mother gorillas, giving her a plush baby gorilla toy, and showing her how to nurse, the zoo added in the statement.
Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered. The World Wildlife Foundation writes it is unable to come up with a reliable population count, since they live in some of the densest jungles in western Africa. But it estimates that poaching and disease have cut populations in the wild by 60 percent in the last 20-25 years.