The BH Zoo-Botany Foundation has recently given us reason to be proud. One of our female gorillas, Lou Lou, has become pregnant again, and she did it the old fashioned way, without scientific interference or human permission. Lou Lou’s pregnancy was also confirmed in a simple way – using a simple home pregnancy test; one that shows the presence of a pregnancy hormone in a urine sample, the same one we humans use.
Our human species is relatively new, but gorillas have been around for about 70 million years, although they are in extinction, which is why the environment created for them at our zoo is so important. Lou Lou’s new infant will be joining a big brother, Sawidi, who was born in August 2014. His name is of Tupi-Guarani origin, and means “wanted and loved”. Little Sawidi is the half-brother of Jahari, who was born in September of that same year. Both boy gorillas were the first of their species to be born in captivity in South America and are sons of Leon, our active adult male gorilla who enjoys multiple wives. Leon, by the way, is considered a good dad because he plays with his kids. Leon was born in the Canary Islands, an archipelago that belongs to Spain. Both Lou Lou and Jahari’s mother, Imbi, are British. Baby Jahari’s name is of African origin, and means “strong and powerful”. The baby’s names were chosen by way of an Internet vote.
Gorilla pregnancies usually last between 8 – 9 ½ months but the newborns are born at only about half the weight of a human (1.4 – 1.8 kg).
Like us, gorillas have 32 teeth, no tail, and individual nose prints in the same way that we have individual handprints. They have pretty much the same senses that we do; hearing, sight with color vision, smell, taste and touch. They also have five fingers and five toes, and the males are much larger and heavier than females.
Gorillas are quieter than us, but when they do communicate with each other they use many complicated sounds such as hooting, barking, grunts, roars, growls, whines and even chuckles. Sometimes they beat their chests, stick out their tongues and use all kinds of posturing tricks just like humans do. But they are considered non-aggressive and make all these noises when frightened, and rarely confront anyone or anything. Humans sometimes teach gorillas sign language, but they have never adopted this form of communication on their own. Gorillas have learned to use tools in captivity, but they apparently don’t use tools in their natural habitat, although they do perform complex tasks. In a nutshell, they are social animals and mostly diurnal, like us.
However, they are ahead of us in the sense that they mostly eat leaves, fruit, seeds, tree bark, flowers and plant bulbs. They do occasionally eat termites and ants, and strangely, drink almost no water.
Gorillas walk differently than we do and they can’t swim. They can climb trees, but don’t do it any more often than we do. And they can walk upright like we do, but usually knuckle-walk, using their legs and their long arms. To do that, they put pressure on their knuckles, and roll their fingers into their hands. Their use of knuckles and rolling their fingers is not unlike the way human beings boxed before boxing gloves were invented.
We need to take care of our gorillas, because at the very least, they are our second cousins. Chimpanzees are our first cousins, but 15% of a gorilla’s DNA is closer to humans than a chimp’s. Gorillas live about 50 years in captivity, and this growing BH family can be part of a sense of pride in our city. Our zoo is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.