A 193kg western lowland gorilla has made his debut at ZSL London Zoo after being flown into the capital as part of an international breeding programme for the critically endangered species.
Kiburi, a 1.6 metre gentle giant, has arrived to lead the conservation zoo’s current troop, females Mjukuu and Effie, and youngsters Alika and Gernot, in the family’s Gorilla Kingdom home.
There are high hopes that the match-making effort will lead to a further increase in the gorilla population.
Kiburi, 18, who travelled from Zoo Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain, was given the VIP treatment by DHL for the 3,060km door-to-door journey.
He travelled in a custom-built crate supported by a dedicated team of zookeepers, aircraft engineers, cargo handlers, security teams, pilots and drivers.
“Kiburi enjoyed an in-flight meal of nutritious leafy greens, snacked on leeks and a banana, and had a refreshing drink of cold fruit tea during his first-class trip,” said gorilla keeper Glynn Hennessy.
Arriving in London late on November 18, the silverback slept over at Heathrow Airport before making it to the zoo at 8am the following day.
A team of vets and zookeepers at London Zoo were on hand to receive the special delivery, and after giving Kiburi a check-up, introduced him to his new Gorilla Kingdom home.
The exciting move was four years in the making.
After the sad passing of London Zoo’s male Kumbuka in 2018, ZSL London Zoo began the search for the perfect male to take his place.
It worked with the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme co-ordinator for western lowland gorillas, which holds detailed records on each gorilla.
“We wanted to find a gorilla to lead the troop in Kumbuka’s stead, which is an important part of a healthy gorilla group’s social structure,” Mr Hennessy said.
“We were excited when they suggested Kiburi, a playful but authoritative silverback who had just come of age.
"But we wanted to make sure, so we flew out to meet him last November and spent five days getting to know him and watching how he interacted with other gorillas.
“We found him to be a calm, friendly individual and a great fit for our own gorilla family’s dynamic.
"He loves a lie-in in the mornings and is more active in the afternoon, which is why we spent the past few weeks installing lots of fun new climbing apparatus for him to enjoy — when he ventures out of bed.”
Kiburi will spend the next few weeks exploring the rest of his new Gorilla Kingdom home — which includes a lush private island, complete with hidden caves, giant jungle gym and a flowing stream — and slowly being introduced to his new troop in time for their first family Christmas.
“Like any blended family, when getting to know each other it’s important to take thing slowly, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the troop and introducing them to each other face-to-face at a pace that they’re comfortable with," Mr Henessey said.
ZSL London Zoo’s Zoological Operations Manager Dan Simmonds, who oversaw the move, said: “Western lowland gorillas are sadly declining in the wilds of central and western Africa, and face threats from poaching, disease, deforestation and climate change.
“ZSL is working to protect the species at ZSL London Zoo by taking part in this vital global breeding programme, while investigating wildlife diseases at ZSL’s world-leading Institute of Zoology, working with partners in the field to strengthen wildlife protection and surveillance, and empowering local communities to combat wildlife crime.
“In time we hope to hear the pitter patter of tiny gorilla feet once again in Gorilla Kingdom, adding to the dwindling population numbers of this critically endangered species.”