Baby gorilla born in Antwerp Zoo


The second gorilla to be born in Antwerp Zoo in 18 months appears to be healthy, and the mother is doing fine

Sister for Thandie

A baby gorilla was born at the Antwerp Zoo this week to mother Mambele and father Matadi. The birth went well, and both the mother and baby are doing fine, the zoo announced.

The baby’s gender is not yet known as zoo staff prefer to let the mother and baby bond for a few days before examining it. It is the second gorilla born at the zoo in 18 months’ time, with toddler Thandie its half-sister. Thandi was also fathered by Matadi.

The young Thandie has shown great interest in the baby, approaching it and touching its face. As for the name of the new baby, it will start with a ‘V’ as are all new babies born in the zoo this  year. The zoo will wait until the gender is known, and then put options for names up to public vote.

This is Mambele’s first baby. The gorilla came to Antwerp from a zoo in Germany. “In the German animal park in Hannover, Mambele’s pregnancies did not end well,” says Melanie Van Hulle, a zookeeper at Antwerp. “Here she has an inspirational example in Mayani, who has been a very attentive mother to Thandie. Since apes imitate each other, we have faith in Mambele and her newborn baby.”

The new addition to the zoo’s troop of gorillas, which now number six, is good news for the species, which is critically endangered in the wild. Western lowland gorillas are native to Congo, Cameroon and several other countries in western Africa.

Over the last 25 years, the Western lowland gorilla population in these countries has fallen by 60%. There are new fewer than 316,000 Western lowland gorillas left, and the number drops every year.

When gorilla babies cry, it sounds almost exactly like a human baby crying

A team of scientists at Antwerp Zoo and Planckendael animal park in Mechelen co-ordinate the Projet Grands Singes in Cameroon. Now in its 18th year, the project is mapping the effects of large-scale deforestation on the survival rates of gorillas and chimpanzees. The project also encourages company and local authorities to adapt their activities so they no longer pose a threat to the ape population.

As for Antwerp’s troop of gorillas, five of them are Western lowland, and one is an Eastern lowland. The Eastern lowland species are even more endangered than their western counterpart, with an estimated 8,500 still existing in Congo.

The female Amahoroa in Antwerp is the only Eastern lowland gorilla in existence outside of Africa. Since the western and eastern species do not interbreed, Amahoroa has never been able to reproduce.

Gorilla DNA, by the way, matches human DNA by 98%. Gorillas are pregnant for about 8.5 months, and when they give birth, they have contractions and dilate in the same way humans do. When babies cry, it sounds almost exactly like a human baby crying. Gorilla babies don’t cry often, though – usually only when they are left alone.

Photos ©Jonas Verhulst/Antwerp Zoo