Gorilla Matchmaking and Family Planning

The zoo’s two new infant gorillas aren’t just a milestone for the new gorilla moms and their social group at Regenstein Center for African Apes. They’re also the culmination of years of planning and cooperation by more than 50 zoos and hundreds of zoo professionals—keepers, curators, directors, vets, institutional representatives, advisors and more—around the country.

New mom Rollie cuddles with her baby, born November 16.

You see, moms Bana and Rollie and dad Kwan are part of a larger community, a population comprised of 342 gorillas residing at Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)–accredited zoos around the country, all managed under the AZA Gorilla Species Survival Plan®. Just as the health and welfare of individual gorillas (and their newborns) is the focus of keepers and curators, the health and welfare of full zoo populations is the focus of the AZA Population Management Center (PMC), which is based at Lincoln Park Zoo.

The PMC advises hundreds of AZA animal populations to help keep them stable, genetically diverse and sustainable long into the future. PMC biologists monitor populations like gorillas with the help of studbook keepers, who record the parentage and life events of every single animal, and species coordinators, who gather requests and input from every AZA zoo that holds the species.

To develop plans to meet the needs of the zoos, individual animals and the population as a whole, the PMC regularly hosts Gorilla SSP meetings (in person or virtually) with the species coordinator, studbook keeper and institutional representatives from the more than 50 participating zoos that hold gorillas. Once together, everyone examines the results of demographic and genetic analyses to find the best possible matches for breeding. Such a meeting took place at Oklahoma City in 2009 and led to the decision to move Bana from Brookfield Zoo to breed with Kwan.

Bana holds her baby, Patty, who was born October 11.

The decision to move a large social animal like a gorilla is not taken lightly, but Bana and Kwan were both genetically valuable, not related to each other (no inbreeding!) and lived in close proximity, so the match was very appealing.
The PMC analyses also revealed another good breeding opportunity—one already at Lincoln Park Zoo! Young female Rollie was a good match for Kwan and only needed to move across the building, from silverback JoJo’s group.

Dad Kwan watches over the group--and the two new babies.

A total of 30 other gorillas were recommended to breed based on similar factors, the goal being to help produce the right number of births to keep the gorilla population at the desired size while maintaining genetic diversity by breeding gorillas from under-represented family lines.

Since gorillas don’t typically live in pairs but in social groups with multiple animals of different sexes and ages, the SSP also considered the genetic and behavioral compatibility of all the gorillas that would live together after the moves occurred. After careful consideration of age, personality and genetic background, the SSP recommendations resulted in two females moving out of Kwan’s group to join social groups at other zoos. Rollie moved over from JoJo’s group, and Bana moved in from Brookfield.

Soon after their first meeting, Kwan and his new female companions showed signs that the matches selected by humans were also approved by the gorillas themselves. And two newborn babies provide the ultimate evidence of successful matchmaking!

Sarah Long

Sarah Long, M.S., is director of the AZA Population Management Center, based at Lincoln Park Zoo.



You all ROCK!

Thanks Nancy!

Thank you for sharing all the gorilla breeding information. So happy for Bana and Rollie!

Glad you enjoyed it Kella!

What software did you use for your demographic and genetic analyses?

Emily, Sarah used two software programs for this planning. PopLink, which was developed at Lincoln Park Zoo, is used to store and prepare the data. Analyses are conducted with PM2000, a freeware program created by colleagues at Brookfield Zoo and the National Zoo.

You mention two female gorillas who were moved from Kwan's group to other zoos - when did that occur? In the past four years that I've been volunteering at the Zoo I recall two females in addition to Rollie being moved from JoJo's group to Kwan's group (Bahati and Susie) and two from JoJo's group who were moved to other zoos (Makari and Tabibu) but not two from Kwan's group leaving LPZ. Please clarify whether this was something that happeneed before my time at the Zoo. Thanks much!!!

Judy, female gorillas Bulera and Madini were transferred to Jacksonville Zoo in 2009 as a result of a recommendation from the Gorilla Species Survival Plan®.

Have finally gotten around to reading the response to my question - thank you for clarifying. The challenges of managing a collection as complex as LPZ'a are truly mind-boggling!

And now that I'm on the subject,a question came up just today: is the SSP coordinator for gorillas one of our own LPZ staff members? If so, I'll be sure to add that to my talking points about LPZ's impressive credentials as a caretaker of this magnificent and sadly endangered species with guests I encounter as a volunteer at the Zoo.

Thanks again for your attention.

Judy, the coordinator for the Gorilla Species Survival Plan works at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Our curator of primates, Maureen Leahy, does contribute to the planning process as an institutional representative!

The article above is very

The article above is very informative and interesting. I would just like to know what happens when they match two animals, ships or flies one of them off to the other (which can be a very traumatic event for the animal) and the two animals don’t except each other or even worse fight and hurt their chosen mate? In general I think that selective breeding is a positive gesture made by the zoo employees. This is especially beneficial for endangered species due to the fact that they can reproduce in a safe and controlled environment. There will always be animals in captivity because there will always be zoos for the amusement of people, therefore I believe that it is better for an animal to be born in captivity rather than to take one out of the wild and put it in captivity. An animal born in captivity does not know the wild and does not know what it’s missing and will adapt better to the lifestyle than a wild animal taken out of the wild.
Esmarie van der Merwe 11084244

Good Question

Each animal introduction is carefully planned and closely mointored to avoid potential conflict. If two animals designated for a match simply aren't compatible, then the population planners in charge of the species will take that into account and try to find a more suitable match in the next round of planning.

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