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Friday, December 2, 2011

Gorilla babe in arms: It may be time to stand on his own two feet, but Kukena prefers to hitch a ride with mum

By Sara Nelson

Think I'll just hang on for a bit longer: Baby Kukena fits comfortably into his mother Salome's hand as he hitches a ride at Bristol Zoo

He may be old enough to take his first steps, but this baby gorilla has decided to stay cuddled up to his mother for just a while longer.

The two-month-old western lowland gorilla was born at Bristol Zoo and has been named Kukena – which means ‘to love’ and comes from the language of the Lunda Tribe in north-west Zambia.

The youngster has just begun learning how to stand up by himself - although unsuccessfully so far.

His mother, Salome, has started putting him down more often, and he has become much more active over the past week.

Still a bit wobbly: The two-month-old lowland gorilla is learning to stand up by himself - but so far unsuccessfully

Lynsey Bugg, assistant curator of mammals at Bristol Zoo Gardens, said: 'Kukena continues to do very well - he is bright-eyed and alert and it's lovely to see him starting to learn how to stand by himself.

'He is not quite there yet, but I don't think it will be too long before we will see him starting to take his first steps, and playing more with his brother and sister, although Salome will be keeping him close while he is still very small.'

The Lunda Tribe originates from the Congo, where western lowland gorillas are found in the wild.

Kukena, who was born on September 27, is the third baby Salome has had at the zoo. Her last baby, Komale, was born in December 2006 following a course of ground-breaking fertility treatment.

This time Salome conceived her baby naturally and the zoo is thrilled she has delivered a boy.

Cuddling up: Kukena, his name means 'to love', was born on September 27 and becomes the seventh gorilla at Bristol Zoo

John Partridge, senior curator of animals, said: "It's great that we now know that Kukena is a boy.

'We will inform the studbook co-ordinator for this species so that detailed, up-to-date records are kept.

'Kukena is genetically very important to the captive breeding programme for gorillas as his mother and grandmother have not produced many offspring so their genes are not very well represented in the studbook for captive gorillas.

'In addition, Kukena's grandparents, Sampson and Lomie, who also lived at Bristol Zoo, were wild caught which means that any of their descendants are important.'

Kukena could eventually move to another zoo as a mate for a female gorilla to continue the breeding programme, but this will not be until he is much older.

As well as Salome and Kukena, the zoo is home to silverback Jock, who is father to Namoki, six and Komale, four. The zoo also has Kera, seven; and Romina, its other adult female gorilla.

The gorillas at the zoo are part of an international conservation breeding programme for the western lowland gorilla, which is a critically endangered species.

All gorilla species are facing serious losses in the wild caused by a number of issues including forest destruction for logging, diseases such as the ebola virus and the slaughter of primates for the illegal bushmeat trade.



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