Gorilla Casey coming soon to the Louisville Zoo

Building Families and Places To Explore – December 1, 2017

Have you heard?

The Louisville Zoo welcomed two new gorillas this season: 35-year old silverback gorilla Casey and 20-year-old female gorilla Bandia — both from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans! The two moves were planned as part of the western lowland gorilla Species Survival Plan: a coordinated effort to manage threatened or endangered species, facilitate healthy and genetically diverse populations in managed care and create a safeguard for animals facing extinction in the vanishing wild.

Gorilla Forest Keeper Michelle Wise traveled to New Orleans in May 2017 to meet and learn more about the gorillas before their arrival in Louisville. In June 2017, Casey arrived in Gorilla Forest, and after the standard quarantine period, he began to learn his new surroundings. The large windows in Gorilla Forest were one feature that proved challenging for Casey. “Gorillas are very sensitive creatures,” said Gorilla Forest Supervisor Jill Katka, “Many people don’t realize that.” Casey didn’t seem sure what to think about his visitors being so close at first. However, after a short period, he was patrolling the different areas of Gorilla Forest like a veteran.

Casey’s keepers found him easy to love, though a bit like your average toddler — attention seeking and preferring to eat his fruit peeled. But, what would Paki think of him, his first new gorilla family member? Paki and Casey were introduced — and after a short time, Paki seemed to determine he was an “a-ok” ape to have around.

A few months later in October, 20-year-old female gorilla Bandia arrived to join their little family group. Her transition moved a bit faster; Bandia’s behaviors indicated she was ready to be with her new family group relatively early on. The transition went smoothly; Bandia  was already familiar with silverback Casey from Audubon and shortly after being  reintroduced, she was taking his food and initiating play.

Paki also accepted her new female family member and they were soon eating and spending time in close proximity. Ultimately, the plan is that Casey’s family group will include one-year-old Kindi and surrogate mother Kweli. Our 29-year-old silverback Mshindi, father of Kindi, was moved to the Cincinnati Zoo at the recommendation of the western lowland gorilla Species Survival Plan. (Read more on Mshindi’s move here.) As Kindi and Kweli join the introductions, the family may be off-exhibit periodically so be sure to check LouisvilleZoo.org/today for the updated exhibit schedule for Kindi.

New Places to Explore

Another big change occurred in Gorilla Forest during October — the construction of a new climbing structure in the outdoor habitat area. The gorilla structure concept was a collaboration between Gorilla Forest Supervisor Jill Katka; Assistant Director of Conservation, Education and Collections Steve Taylor; and Louisville Zoo Director John Walczak. The idea was that the new structure would resemble an abandoned gorilla research station that gorillas had reclaimed as their own — one that included many platforms with lots of opportunity for climbing and exploration to provide shade and enrichment.

“Adult gorillas need different levels in which they establish their private spaces to rest,” Katka explained. The new climbing structure was built by the United Auto Workers (UAW) 862 Ford Ramp Team. The Ramp Team is a group of union members who build accessible wheelchair ramps for senior citizens as well as helping veterans organizations, schools and churches. The Ramp Team started helping out the Louisville Zoo a few years ago as part of our partnership with the Greater Louisville United Labor Picnic, Inc. which includes their generosity with Zoo Kids, Inc. and in-kind carpentry at the Zoo.

When UAW 862 heard that the pavilion covering the carousel could use some repairs, they spent several days replacing and repairing the trim work on the support posts of the gazebo along with some repairs to the main entrance. They also made repairs on one of our storage facilities this year.

“I think this is probably about as big as we could have gone,” said member Nick Reid. “From building wheelchair ramps every day to a gorilla structure was a pretty good stretch.” The structure was dedicated on October 19, 2017. The gorillas are generally in the indoor habitats during very chilly days, but on milder days be sure to look in the outdoor habitats — you may just see them playing and lounging on their new “research station.”