In a momentous occasion for Zoo Atlanta, a western lowland gorilla infant was born to Shalia on April 24, 2023, continuing the cherished legacy of the late Willie B.
Although the newborn arrived two weeks earlier than expected, zoo officials say it appears healthy, strong, and is receiving proper maternal care. The infant’s sex remains unconfirmed.
This birth marks the 25th gorilla born at Zoo Atlanta since the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest in 1988. The infant is the first offspring of Willie B. Jr., the only son of the legendary late Willie B., an icon in Atlanta. While not the first grandchild of Willie B., this newborn carries on the esteemed family tradition.
Raymond B. King, President and CEO of Zoo Atlanta, commented on the significance of this event, “The Willie B. legacy is a uniquely Atlanta tradition. Generations of Atlantans grew up with Willie B. and later his children and grandchildren, making connections not only with gorillas but also with a story that has become symbolic of the evolution of Zoo Atlanta. We are thrilled to see that legacy continue and to welcome a newborn ambassador for a critically endangered species.”
Willie B. Jr.’s four sisters – Kudzoo, Olympia, Sukari, and Lulu – have contributed to the family legacy as mothers and group members. Kudzoo, Sukari, and Lulu reside at Zoo Atlanta, while Olympia lives at another accredited organization and has a son.
Willie B. Jr.’s troop includes two other adult females, Kambera and Amari. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan recommended the breeding of Willie B. Jr. and Shalia, aiming to maintain self-sustaining, genetically diverse gorilla populations in accredited zoos.
Visitors to Zoo Atlanta can try to catch a glimpse of Shalia and the infant at Gorilla Habitat 4 in The Ford African Rain Forest, although sightings are not guaranteed.
Zoo Atlanta has earned global recognition for its western lowland gorilla care and behavioral study program, as the species is critically endangered. Wild populations have drastically declined due to habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade, and emerging diseases. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that these combined threats have reduced wild populations by 60 percent in 25 years, with declines of up to 90 percent in some parts of western Africa.
With one of North America’s largest gorilla populations, Zoo Atlanta’s research has influenced gorilla care in zoos and improved global understanding of the species. Over 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior, and cognition have come from the Zoo Atlanta team.
Zoo Atlanta supports the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program and has provided pro-bono headquarters space, information technology support, and financial resources to its partner, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, for over 20 years. Additionally, the zoo supports the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project, which works to mitigate threats to western lowland gorillas and other apes in the Congo Basin, through its Mabel Dorn Reeder Conservation Endowment Fund.
Further details on Zoo Atlanta’s celebration of the new infant and the upcoming 35th anniversary of Willie B.’s first day outdoors in The Ford African Rain Forest will be announced soon.
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