The gorilla is the largest of all the primates and not in the slightest bit deserving of its fierce King Kong image – a fact that many people are nowadays thankfully aware of. Five different races or ‘sub-species’ of gorilla are currently recognised, all of which face a severe threat of extinction in their native equatorial African habitat. The gruesome and growing illegal trade in gorilla ‘bush meat’ and the all too common problem of habitat loss are the main reasons for the decline of these magnificent apes.
Although gorillas have been kept in captivity for over 100 years, the first was not born until 1956. Since then a better understanding of their needs has led gorillas to live longer and breed more often thanks to improved diets, better mental and physical stimulation and the formation of stable social groups. Durrell has kept western lowland gorillas since 1959 – the year it opened. The first to arrive was two-year-old female N’pongo, who died in 1999 at the grand old age of 42. To date, 15 valuable babies have been born here; most are now at other zoos and continue to make a valuable contribution to the breeding programme for their highly endangered species.
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