Welcoming Okpara

A new gorilla has joined the troop at Audubon Zoo.

Okpara, a Western lowland gorilla, is settling into his new home at Audubon Zoo. His recent move from Franklin Park Zoo is an integral piece of a larger plan to help bolster the population of this critically endangered species.

Okpara is joining another recent arrival—Tumani, a 10-year-old female Western lowland gorilla from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo—and Praline, a female who is the last gorilla born at Audubon Zoo 21 years ago. The new Audubon gorilla troop may not be visible to the public for a time as Okpara and two females engage in a structured introduction process to ensure they bond socially. Animal care experts emphasize that this is an important step toward establishing a cohesive unit.

Since early December, the 24-year-old male silverback gorilla, affectionately known as “Okie,” has resided behind the scenes as animal care providers and veterinary staff completed a standard quarantine protocol to ensure that new arrivals like Okpara don’t bring health-related problems with them that could cause problems for the existing animals under Audubon's care. “All zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are expected to have quarantine protocols for incoming animals,’’ said Dr. Robert MacLean, Audubon Nature Institute senior veterinarian. The quarantine also provides a valuable settling-in period for a new arrival and the Audubon team of animal care professionals.

Conservation:

Like all great apes, gorillas are in danger of extinction due to habitat loss from unsustainable agricultural and mining practices. The Western lowland gorilla is critically endangered, with an estimated population of 100,000.

Franklin Park Zoo and Audubon Zoo are active participants in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Species Survival Plans help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums. Each species has an advisory board of experts who consider the parentage and genetic information of every animal in the system to determine which ones would make the best match at the time given the current gene pool. The panel strives to maintain the genetic variation that a species would get under ideal conditions in the wild.

Very few zoo animals are brought in from the wild and fewer still will return there. Instead, they are bred and live under human care, serving as the ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild—ideally as a healthy, genetically diverse population designed to avert extinction. The AZA’s Gorilla Species Survival Plan manages 350 gorillas in 48 North American zoos, including a dozen born last year.

We hope the plight of gorillas inspires our guests to make simple changes in their lives. For example, by recycling your electronics, you can reduce the demand for coltan, a mineral that is mined in the habitats of gorillas and other critically endangered species. Small steps like this can make a big difference.