When I was away in the US, I included San Diego in my tour because I specifically wanted to go to their Zoo and it certainly is memorable. Covering 100 acres, it has a long sky lift and at least two very long moving walkways to help visitors get around it. Gorillas, pandas and polar bears make it a real destination. To my surprise, when making comparisons on size, the Perth Zoo is 41 acres – much larger than I had thought. Encased between four streets in South Perth and only a couple of minutes walk from the Mends Street Ferry, it is a model of innovation, tradition, family values and scientific advances.
One of the highlights of my visit to the San Diego Zoo was to watch a family group of Western Lowland Gorillas. In Australia, Melbourne has become world famous for their success in breeding these gorillas. Three of them (Motaba and his sons, Ganyeka and Yakini,) have recently been moved out to the open range zoo at Werribee while another male gorilla and four females have remained in the Melbourne zoo, because only one male can head up the group.
The purpose of Zoos is to secure long term populations of species in natural environments while engaging the community in global conservation action and the Perth Zoo has an enviable success in getting its animals to breed. One of the current conservation programmes at the Perth Zoo is structured around the donation of unwanted mobile phones to help save the Mountain Gorillas of Africa. Because mobile phones and other electronic devices use coltan, (a metallic ore) there is great demand for this and it is mined in areas where they live. This is leading to forest loss, civil unrest and land piracy which is accelerating the loss of Mountain Gorillas at an alarming rate. It is estimated there are only about 600 Mountain Gorillas left in the world and there are none in Zoos. By donating your mobile phone to the Zoo, it will have its coltan-coated capacitor recycled and other valuable or even toxic parts kept out of landfill.
Part of the Perth Zoo master plan is for Gorillas and Colobus to be housed in a future mixed exhibit in the African Savannah, on an island in the main lake. All the gorillas in Zoos are Lowland Gorillas – about 4,000 Western Lowland and only about 24 Eastern Lowland Gorillas. They are often moved around the world between Zoos, to help maintain good gene pools and improve breeding results.
In 2006, two female gorillas were transferred back to Europe (where they were originally born) from Toronga Park Zoo in Sydney, via Adelaide where they spent eight months as part of the quarantine process before going home. They were Anguka, born at Apenheul, 28 October 1994, and Safiri, also born at Apenheul, 6 June 1996. They are half sisters who were sent back to join the gorilla breeding programme and around May 2007 they left, Anguka for Lisbon Zoo in Portugal and Safiri for Duisburg Zoo in Germany. While they were in Adelaide, they raised about $20,000 towards gorilla conservation in Africa. In December, 2007 their half brother was born at Toronga Zoo in Sydney, Their father, Kibabu, had sired a son with Frala, which made him a grandfather once again. Anguka, (in Lisbon,) had her first baby last October (2010) but it did not survive. She carried it about for several days and hopefully she will be pregnant again soon.
In April 2011, a zoo news update reported that Safiri (in Duisburg) gave birth to a baby, named Kiburi while another Kiburi was born to Kijivu on 24 April, 2010, a year earlier at Prague Zoo.The birth and parentage of every baby gorilla is carefully recorded to ensure the best choices can be made between zoos for strengthening the genetic diversity of captive gorillas to help ensure their survival. Gorillas can live a very long time – In September 2010, Avila, the first gorilla born at San Diego Zoo, died at the age of 45 and at that time, her mother Vila, was still alive at 53, at the Zoo and the third-oldest gorilla in a North American Zoo. In September 2008, Jenny turned 55 at the Dallas Zoo, and died almost a year later. On December 22, 1956, Colo was the first gorilla to be born in captivity, she celebrated her 54th birthday in 2010 and today, she is the oldest living gorilla in captivity.
To see how carefully they are cared for and the match making that goes on behind the scenes is fascinating and it is clearly more than an idle choice when a gorilla is on the go – to a new home.