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Yola fits right in with her gorilla family

Posted by: Stephanie Payne-Jacobs, Zookeeper

Yola is taking steps outdoors as she prepares to join the exhibit in June. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since the time of our last update, Yola’s caregivers are happy to report that her introduction to her full family group has progressed wonderfully, with each positive step cautiously leading to the next.

Now that Yola has outgrown the need for midnight and 3:00 a.m. bottles, our first step was to ask Nadiri to keep Yola with her overnight to allow them time to bond quietly while nesting down for the night. This narrowed their time apart from one another each day to approximately 4-5 hours, when Leo’s group in on exhibit. Keepers noticed a fairly immediate change in Nadiri’s interactions with Yola, whose company, at six rambunctious months old, may be a lot more fun for Nadiri than a needy newborn. Over the past month, play sessions have increased, and Nadiri is carrying Yola more and making more protective gestures towards her.

Yola's name means "firefly," in part inspired by the bright little tuft of fur on her backside. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Almost concurrently, we began giving Nadiri and Yola access to the outdoor exhibit first thing in the morning while the zoo is still closed, in order to give Yola time to get familiar with the lay of the land and the opportunity to navigate the pathways. Yola has not shown much interest in the great unknown of the exhibit yet, and has spent most of these mornings in the back of the exhibit playing in the clover.

She doesn't go far, but she has fun where she does go. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Once Yola and Nadiri were comfortably established in this new routine, keepers moved on to the physical introduction of silverback Leo. We decided to introduce Leo before female Akenji based on our observations of Leo’s fondness for Yola through the mesh over the past months, and her comfort in Leo’s proximity. Leo did not prove us wrong. The first morning that he shifted into the rooms with Nadiri and Yola, there were multiple content grunts, along with calm body language and respected personal space. We also saw that Nadiri was cautious about allowing Yola to approach Leo, which was exactly what we were hoping for. It was important to see Nadiri’s protective instincts kick in before taking the next step of adding Akenji to the visits, who would likely be more curious about Yola, and, as a result, more interactive.

Yola loves to climb. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

As soon as we saw signs that the visits with Leo were becoming routinely comfortably and relaxed for all three gorillas, it was time to take the final introductory step and add Akenji to the mix. This was just a bit nerve wracking for us all, as Akenji is one of our most playful and outgoing gorillas. We weren’t sure how this energy would translate to a new, small potential playmate.

As she grows more comfortable exploring outdoors, we hope to see Yola join the exhibit in June. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Akenji is also incredibly intelligent and socially savvy, and this was evident on the first morning she joined the visit between Nadiri, Leo and Yola. The energy and excitement that we all anticipated was, and continues to be, expressed through occasional and playful displays through the bedrooms. When Akenji  does approach Yola, she does so cautiously, knowing full well that Nadiri and Leo are watching and listening for any signs of distress coming from Yola. While Akenji  has shown that she is (mostly) able to restrain her excitement when it comes to this new family member, she will occasionally do something that makes Yola react (she likes to flip her over like a turtle, for instance). When this has happened, Leo and Nadiri have come running—not aggressively, just quickly enough to be present for Yola or to displace Akenji if necessary.  It’s been a pleasure to watch this group slowly coming together at each step. Their fondness for one another has been a huge asset to the process.

We're all fond of Yola: keepers, visitors and gorillas alike. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We continue to see positive behavior among the adults and towards Yola and the visits are becoming longer in duration each day. The next step will be to allow the group outside together while the zoo is closed, in order to give them time to grow comfortable with one another in their outdoor space. Once that is established, we will work towards having the group outside and on view at some point each day.

Today is Endangered Species Day. Yola is a reminder—one that hits us right in the heart—of what's at stake for critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

We all are extremely appreciative of everyone’s patience in this process, from zoo directors to zoo visitors. It has been invaluable to be afforded the time to work towards slowly introducing and establishing the relationship between Nadiri and Yola. This process could not have been rushed, so we thank everyone for their patient contribution towards our anticipated end result: Nadiri and her baby together in their family group.


Unknown said…
Love this baby. "My baby"
Unknown said…
Thank YOU for YOUR patience and hard work!! We are so happy for our zoo family!
Julie Jay said…
Many thanks to the keepers for keeping Yola and doing the extensive work to integrate her with her Mother and the group. You've done a seriously great job! I'm a huge gorillaphile and I'm thrilled that I will soon be able to see a gorilla baby in person.