EXCLUSIVE: Zoo official says gorilla could have reproduced before death

Jabari. Photo credit: The Philadelphia Zoo.
Jabari. Photo credit: The Philadelphia Zoo.

Jabari may have planted his seed before his unexpected death.

The 28-year-old gorilla who had started to mate with newcomer Kira in the hopes of starting a family at the Philadelphia Zoo, died Friday while under anesthesia for treatment.

Andy Baker, Chief Operating Officer at the Philadelphia Zoo, told Metro Saturday that there is a possibility that  Jabari Jr. is baking in the oven.

“It’s possible,” Baker said. “(Kira) had been off contraceptives, it did appear that she cycled and there was reproductive activity so it’s possible that at the end of his life Jabari will still be a father.”

“We won’t know that for some time,” he added, “And if that’s the case, there is still a long road through gestations, which is about eight and a half months with gorillas.”

Jabari made headlines just last week when primate officials at the zoo said he and Kira, who came from Franklin Park Zoo in Boston down to Philadelphia to start a family in June, started mating. Kira had been introduced to the group—which included female Honi and males Louis and Kuchimba. Louis is Jabari’s 11-year-old son. Kuchimba, 11, is Honi’s son.

Just last week, Kristen Farley-Rambo, gorilla keeper at the Philadelphia Zoo, said the zoo family was excited for the possibility of a baby between Kira and Jabari. She called Kira a “natural mother.”

Jabari’s death “Was a complete shock,” Baker said. “And for the keeper staff, for the vet staff, for the broader new staff and for many of our visitors who knew him as an iconic individual and had watched him over the many years he’d been here, and we’re looking forward to him potentially being the head of a group with youngsters.”

Zoo officials said Jabari, a western lowland gorilla, was exhibiting loss of appetite and mouth or throat discomfort Thursday. Veterinarians at the zoo put him under anesthesia where he stopped breathing. Necropsy results are pending.

Baker said it’s not unusual for those who work with animals or people to experience loss.

“It’s unusual to have something so unexpected,” Baker said. “He’s been in good health although he does have, which is not unusual with male Gorilla’s, we were treating him for potential heart disease, but we certainly didn’t expect anything like this.”

What’s the next step? Does he mate Kira with a gorilla already at the zoo, or do they try and get a gorilla from another zoo?

“So, what we’ll be doing now is, like many other species that we work with in zoos, particularly high-profile and particularly endangered ones, the gorilla population in the U.S. is managed on a national level,” Baker said. “And so decisions are made considering the needs of the individual animals, the situations of the individual zoos, and then looking at the overall population with the broader goal being long-term genetic and demographic health of the population.”

“And so with this just happening yesterday, we have not sort of begun the process of talking through next steps with the national program, but that’s what we’ll do,” Baker added. “And so they’ll look at our situation, situations at other zoos, and the overall population and work with us to come up with what works best across all those needs.”


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