Sunday, March 15, 2009

First Gorilla Born at Zoo Atlanta Turns 20 on March 15

Birthday activities on Sunday, March 15

Guests are invited to join festivities honoring Zoo Atlanta’s firstborn gentle giant on Sunday, March 15 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in The Ford African Rain Forest. Kekla and fellow bachelors Charlie and Stadi will open birthday packages at 1 p.m. in Gorilla Habitat One. Shortly thereafter, visitors are invited to join a special “Gorilla Safari” series of keeper talks.

Well-wishers are also encouraged to bring old or unused cell phones for recycling on the day of the event; the individual bringing the most phones will win an exclusive gorilla experience. Proceeds from Zoo Atlanta’s cell phone recycling program benefit The Dian Fossey Gorilla
Fund International, the Zoo’s partner in gorilla conservation in Africa.

Birthday activities are weather-permitting; guests are encouraged to check their Zoo maps on the day of the event for details or changes. Kekla’s 20th birthday celebration is free for Zoo Members and children under 3; free with general admission.

The famously dire Ides of March might have proved fatefully unfortunate for Julius Caesar, but such was decidedly not the case for an up-and-coming wildlife organization determined to
prove to the world that it had been reborn. On March 15, 1989, Paki, a female western lowland gorilla, gave birth to a son. He was called Kekla – the name means “dawn” – and he was the first of his species born at Zoo Atlanta.

Now a handsome silverback weighing around 350 pounds, the Zoo’s breakthrough baby lives in a bachelor habitat with half-brothers Stadi, 17, and Charlie, 12. Described as a calm, collected, laid-back fellow, Kekla doesn’t realize he’s almost 20, nor is he aware of the significance of his birthday. In 1989, Zoo Atlanta was four years into its greatest period of renewal and reversal – an era illuminated by the opening of The Ford African Rain Forest in 1988. The landmark debut of that series of habitats, made famous by the iconic Willie B.’s first foray outside since his infancy, showcased naturalistic, expansive new homes, not just for the beloved Willie, but also for a group of new gorillas from Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Kekla’s parents, Ozzie and Paki, were two such pioneers, and his birth was a celebratory occasion. Since that day, 16 other western lowland gorillas have been born at Zoo Atlanta, 14 of whom still call the organization home. Ranging in age from Kekla down to Willie B.’s 2-year-old grandson, Gunther, these individuals flourish in five distinct social groups. Also since that day, Zoo Atlanta, now home to the nation’s second-largest collection of gorillas and the country’s largest collection of orangutans, has become a nationally-renowned powerhouse for the care and study of great apes. To date, Zoo Atlanta staff is responsible for more than 45 percent of the world’s publications on captive gorilla behavior. Kekla’s father, Ozzie, who turns 48 this year, is the zoological community’s second-oldest living male gorilla.

His mother, Paki, passed away in October 2004.

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