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Two western lowland gorillas are planned to join Gorilla Forest in a collaborative effort across several accredited zoos within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The first arrival, 35-year-old male silverback Casey, arrives at the Louisville Zoo from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. At a later date, the Louisville Zoo will also welcome a 19-year-old female gorilla from an AZA-accredited zoo, with details to be confirmed closer to the transfer time.
Ultimately, the plan is that new silverback Casey will become the silverback in a family group that includes one-year-old Kindi, her surrogate mother Kweli, female gorilla Paki and the new incoming female gorilla. In conjunction with these changes, the Louisville Zoo’s 29-year-old silverback Mshindi will be transferred to another AZA accredited zoo in the next few months with details to be announced by that organization.
“We will miss Mshindi,” said Assistant Mammal Curator and Gorilla Forest Supervisor Jill Katka. “However, we believe it is the right time for these changes to occur. Creating the strongest and healthiest family group for Kindi is one of our primary priorities. With the death of her natural mother Mia Moja last year, the family group of Paki, Kweli and Msindi had been splintered and the dynamics altered. These new changes will allow Kindi to have a cohesive family group and will help create more viable family groups for the health and stability of all the gorillas involved in these moves coordinated by the AZA’s Species Survival Plan (SSP).”
The SSP serves as a safeguard for animals facing extinction in the wild. This highly coordinated partnership between AZA-accredited zoos is designed to facilitate a healthy and genetically-diverse population of gorillas in managed care. Through analyzation of data from conservationists around the world, the experts at AZA determine which species are most at risk in the wild and can be best helped through breeding programs in AZA zoos. A Species Survival Plan is then created for each of these species. By transferring animals as a part of this plan, zoos maintain the diversity of a threatened species’ gene pool and ensure the best chances of healthy offspring so that the species may continue to survive.
Western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered with an estimated 100,000 left in the remnant wild. There are about 353 residing in 51 AZA accredited institutions in North America. Due to habitat destruction primarily caused by mining, logging and agricultural expansion, their numbers continue to decline. Coltan mining in particular is impacting the gorilla population. Coltan is a black metallic mineral that is used in nearly every electronic device today including cell phones. The Louisville Zoo partners with Louisville-based organization Eco-Cell to collect old cell phones and help reduce the need for additional mining in and around gorilla habitats. The bushmeat trade and the Ebola virus are also major threats.
The Louisville Zoo, a nonprofit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
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