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Western lowland gorilla Okpara will soon move to new home

GorillaokiemontageWestern lowland gorilla Okpara, affectionately known as Okie, will soon move to his new home where it is hoped that he will be successful in starting his own family.

Zoo New England is an active participant in the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a cooperative, inter-zoo program coordinated nationally through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). SSPs help to ensure the survival of selected species in zoos and aquariums, most of which are threatened or endangered and enhance conservation of these species in the wild. Per the SSP recommendation, Okie will move to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

“Careful thought and planning goes into these recommendations and this is not something that we enter into lightly,” said John Linehan, Zoo New England President and CEO. “This is bittersweet for us as we will miss Okie, but it is important for him to start his own family which contributes to the preservation of this species. Zoo New England’s success in gorilla reproduction and socialization is having a positive impact on our collective effort to save this species.”

In the months leading up to Okie’s departure, the Animal Care staff at Franklin Park Zoo has worked closely with the staff at the Audubon Zoo to prepare Okie, age 24, for this move and successful assimilation into the newly formed gorilla group at his new home.

Group dynamics and stability are extremely important when determining whether the time is right to move a gorilla to a new home. In the wild, male western lowland gorillas usually stay with their natal family group up until around the age of 10 or so. At that point, the adult male may force them out of their group and they will live on their own or with other sub-adult males until they are ready to start their own family group either by displacing a silverback from a preexisting group or by starting a new group with females that emigrate out of their natal groups.

“We feel that Okie is ready for this move and will adjust well to his new home,” said Josh Meyerchick, Assistant Curator of Franklin Park Zoo’s Tropical Forest. “He is an incredible ambassador for his species, and we look forward to him having his own family someday.”

Per the SSP recommendations, Okie is not the only gorilla at Franklin Park Zoo who will depart for a new home. Kimani is slated to move to her new home at the San Francisco Zoo & Gardens sometime in 2018. At 12 years old, Kimani is at the right age to start her own family. As the second oldest of Kiki and Kitombe’s offspring at Franklin Park Zoo, she has learned maternal skills by observing her own mother and also through interacting with her younger siblings Kambiri and Azize.

Western lowland gorillas are considered critically endangered in the wild. They are found in the countries of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo, Angola, Central African Republic and Nigeria. Threats to gorillas vary geographically and western gorillas are primarily threatened by disease, poaching for the bushmeat trade, and unsustainable logging and mining practices.

Zoo New England is proud to support conservation work on behalf of gorillas through the Ape TAG Conservation Initiative, a collective effort by zoos to help conserve wild populations of endangered apes in their natural habitats. Projects range from species monitoring and protection to law enforcement, ecotourism and veterinary and disease monitoring.

Through cell phone recycling, people can also help to protect gorillas. Coltan, used in the production of cell phones, is mined from central African forests right in the gorillas’ habitat. By recycling cell phones, the need for additional coltan mining is reduced, and in turn, habitat destruction. Guests to Zoo New England’s Franklin Park Zoo and Stone Zoo can drop off their old cell phones, which are recycled through the Eco-Cell program.