NC Zoo will say goodbye to gorillas, for now

akenney@newsobserver.comMay 22, 2014 

Bomassa rides his mother’s back last year at the N.C. Zoo. The state zoo plans to send all five of its gorillas to another zoo this fall.

COURTESY NORTH CAROLINA ZOO

— The N.C. Zoo is giving up its five gorillas, at least temporarily, in an attempt to better meet their psychological and emotional needs.

The zoo plans this fall to send the gorillas to an as-yet-undetermined zoo, where the young male animals can get to know adult male role models. The change was recently recommended by members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan.

The move comes eight months after the death of Nkosi, the 21-year-old father of Bomassa and Apollo, who are less than two years old. Without Nkosi, the gorilla boys are missing out important lessons in how to become an adult gorilla, according to the zoo.

The current zoo exhibit also includes the mothers of the young gorillas, Jamani and Olympia, and another female gorilla named Acacia. Following the national organization’s recommendation, the zoo will send all five away, then replace them this fall with three adult male gorillas.

The young males’ behavior hadn’t changed drastically since their father’s death, but the Gorilla Species Survival Plan group believes a change in structure will better help the animals as they mature.

“There’s nothing alarming at all,” said zoo spokesman Gavin Johnson. “They’re happy, fun gorillas.”

Besides new role models, the Gorilla Species Survival Plan group also wants the young male gorillas to have another gorilla their age. The national group will dictate where the current group goes and where the next gorillas will come from, according to Johnson.

“We’re kind of finding this out with you guys,” said Johnson, who only learned of the change Thursday. “This is something they do to make sure that the breeding stays healthy.”

The zoo plans to renovate the exhibit after the current group leaves, though it hasn’t decided the details yet, Johnson said.

The Species Survival Plan group is made up of experts and representatives of the 52 American zoos that host a total of 360 Western gorillas, the only species of gorilla kept in captivity in the country, according to the organization. The group aims to ensure the genetic health and proper care of Western gorillas, which now are classified as “critically endangered.”

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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