N.C. marks the 1st birthday of gorillas Apollo and Bomassa

sbarr@newsobserver.comAugust 3, 2013 

— Baby gorillas Apollo and Bomassa partied hard at the North Carolina Zoo on Saturday, ringing in their first birthdays with an ice cake, gifts of boxes filled with carrots and a nonstop stream of guests.

Both gorillas were born at the zoo last year – Apollo on Aug. 31 and Bomassa on Aug. 4 – and have been among the zoo’s most popular animals ever since.

During Saturday’s celebration, the pair was treated to a frozen cake filled with carrots, cucumbers and kiwi, one of the gorillas’ favorite treats. The hundreds of human guests at their party enjoyed cupcakes.

In the afternoon, Apollo ambled up to a window in the gorillas’ habitat where Reece Christenson, 7, and his brother, Rhett, 3, stood watching. The brothers were impressed by his antics, which included putting hay on his head and eating ice.

Reece declared Apollo “really smart.”

“That baby gorilla looked right at me,” he said.

Apollo and Bomassa are part of a group of six western lowland gorillas. They live with their mothers, Jamani and Olympia; their father, Nkosi; and a third adult female, Acacia.

Jeff Douglas, a volunteer at the zoo, was there the day Bomassa was born. When Bomassa’s mother, Jamani, walked him over to the glass window of the gorilla’s habitat and held him up for all to see, Douglas knew he was hooked for good.

“I just like their peaceful attitude,” he said. “They’re a family.”

Bomassa weighs in at 16 pounds and Apollo at 17 pounds. Male western lowland gorillas reach a height of nearly 6 feet and weigh more than 350 pounds. When they reach adulthood, at about 10 to 13 years old, they grow distinctive silver hair on their backs, a characteristic that has earned them the moniker of silverbacks.

In the wild, western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered. They live primarily in and around Cameroon.

The zoo’s gorillas are part of the Species Survival Plan program. Through that conservation program, a network of zoos in North America work together to maintain a healthy, genetically diverse gorilla population.

Windy Sawczyn is a photographer who has made a weekly trip to visit the baby gorillas, since stumbling upon them during a visit to the zoo last year. She said she’s fascinated by the social dynamics between the gorillas.

“They are just so much like us,” she said.

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