COLUMBUS, Ohio − Zookeepers at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio have made an exciting discovery.
Sully, an eight-year old gorilla whom zookeepers thought was male, gave birth last week. The newborn, who does not yet have a name, is the 34th gorilla born in the zoo since 1956.
“We’re thrilled by the addition of another birth for this critically endangered species,” wrote a staff member in the zoo’s blog. “(The newborn is) an important part of our work to conserve these magnificent animals.”
Shawn Bell, the assistant curator for Sully’s section of the zoo, said he had just arrived at work when he got a call from a zookeeper who found the mother with her baby.
“We were managing Sully as a male gorilla, and so we definitely didn’t expect Sully to have a baby gorilla,” Bell said.
Zookeepers had previously mistaken Sully for a male because it’s difficult to tell the sex of younger gorillas. Males and females are about the same size, and they don’t have prominent sex organs, according to the blog. Female gorillas also show few outward signs of pregnancy.
Sully and her baby are western lowland gorillas, which are critically endangered in the wild due to deforestation, habitat loss, and the illegal bushmeat trade.
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The zoo says it is a “a proud supporter of several gorilla conservation projects in Central Africa, from research to rescue and rehabilitation missions.”
In addition to its gorilla breeding program, the Columbus Zoo has a “foster program” that places young gorillas with foster mothers when their biological mothers are unable to care for them.
Sully’s troop at the zoo − headed by a male named Mac − now includes 10 gorillas. The zoo also has a separate troop with five gorillas.
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The zoo will conduct a DNA test to determine who the father is, according to spokesperson Jen Fields.
Visitors will be allowed to celebrate the baby’s birth by visiting the indoor gorilla habitat, which is opening to guests starting Friday.
“To ensure their comfort, the gorillas will have access to different areas, including behind-the-scenes habitats,” according to the blog.
Peter Gill covers immigration, new American communities and religion for The Dispatch in partnership with Report for America. You can support work like his with a tax-deductible donation to Report for America at: bit.ly/3fNsGaZ.