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Happy birthday, Kitoko! Five highlights from one fabulous year!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Today, March 4, is a very special day—the day we wish little Kitoko a happy 1st birthday! What better way to celebrate than to share with you some highlights from this very special western lowland gorilla's first year!

1. Birth and first days

Kitoko was born on March 4, 2020 to first-time mother Uzumma and silverback male, Kwame. Instantly our collective hearts melted seeing how quickly Uzumma took to her new role—doting on her new baby, nursing him, cuddling him and patting him to sleep. No doubt, she has given him the very best start in life… and given us more memories to treasure!

"I only have eyes for you!" Uzumma gazes lovingly at her newborn baby.

2. Growing, climbing and exploring!

Kitoko was a bright-eyed and curious baby right from the start and he has met every milestone while growing and learning about the world around him. His first adventures included climbing to new heights—safely in the arms of his mom who is an expert climber. 

Uzumma is an expert climber and often seeks out the highest vantage point in her habitat—including days after giving birth as seen here from 2020.

Being a very determined little gorilla (a trait he, no doubt, got from his mother), Kitoko started exploring the world on his own as soon as he was able to stand on his wobbly legs and toddle around. By 6 months, he was often seen reaching for and grasping everything he could get his hands on, including pieces of solid food that his mom Uzumma may have dropped.

3. Tasting all the flavors of his world

Speaking of food … at a year old Kitoko still nurses some from Uzumma, but he eats lots of solid foods now too! He is eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and greens and loves nibbling on anything that he can grab away from mom. Some of his first favorites include grapes and orange peels that Uzumma lets him chew on every evening after she’s eaten most of the fruity part with her dinner.

Kitoko takes on a carrot that's nearly as tall as he is!

Our "Keeper Cam" captured this early morning sweetness of Kitoko shared breakfast with dad, Kwame, back in October. And yes ... Kwame shared his portion with his son.

He shares meals and play time with his dad, Kwame, too! Here are a couple of our faves from this first year. One quiet morning, the “gorilla keeper cam” caught some adorable images of father and son sharing breakfast! We've also seen some sweet moments that include a little cuddling between the gentle silverback and his son.

4. Kitoko inspires caring and conservation

Our love for Kitoko and interest in him has led to an increased sense of caring and connection with some of his wild cousins, too—like this mountain gorilla youngster with the awesome hairdo. This social post from spring 2020 was one of our most engaging conservation stories that year and reminded our audience that all gorillas are endangered and need protected habitat to thrive. 

Left: Mountain gorilla baby in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Right: Kitoko as an infant in Uzumma's arms.

Your donations in Kitoko’s name, along with memberships and other gifts, help Woodland Park Zoo support global conservation projects like the Mondika Gorilla Project and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda. (They sent us the pic of the young gorilla on the left.)

The project’s rangers live out in the field for weeks at a time to protect several large families of gorillas from threats such as poaching and habitat loss. As a matter of fact, their research and protection help nearly half of that country’s entire mountain gorilla population. They, and we, are grateful for your support!

Spring 2020 was a wild ride, but when we asked you all to show your love for Uzumma's baby gorilla by sending a wish as part of our gorilla baby wish book project... the pandemic couldn't stop your love for Kitoko! We received hundreds of wonderful drawings and heartfelt wishes for little Kitoko and all endangered gorillas.

Molly, at age 9, with her wishes for baby Kitoko. See more of the artwork here.

5. Peers, playmates and plenty of shenanigans to come!

Throughout his first year, Kitoko has proven to be a very curious and determined little gorilla—a bit of a handful for his mom! (In all fairness, Uzumma was quite a handful for her mom too, so in this case the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree!)

Playtime is an essential part of growing up gorilla and Kitoko is becoming a pro! Playing with adults, like mom or dad, is fine—but playing with other youngsters is the best! For the first few months, Uzumma pretty much kept Kitoko within an arm’s (or a leg’s) reach, but these days she is more and more comfortable letting him have some contact with other members of the family, including 5-year-old Yola. Yola is very interested in her little nephew (she and Uzumma are half-sisters) and the two of them have had some wonderful play sessions together. This is not only great fun, but also very enriching for both of these young gorillas as they practice social skills and learn more about their gorilla world!

Yola and Kitoko.

Other than time spent with Mom or other family, Kitoko's world pretty much includes whatever he can get his hands, and mouth, on!

The year ahead...

And now, there is a new baby added into the mix, which means more fun times ahead for Kitoko—and Yola, too! Nadiri’s new baby girl, born the last week of January, is a little half-sister to both of these youngsters. She may prove to be the best birthday present Kitoko could have hoped for, because the birth of a new baby is a joyful and enriching time for the whole family group! Our dedicated gorilla keepers say Kitoko has shown a lot of interest in the new baby. He wants to get a closer look, to touch and smell her—but for now, both Nadiri and Uzumma are making sure he keeps a respectful distance until she's a little older.

Hey, little sister! Nadiri's new baby will be a new playmate for Kitoko and Yola!

Kitoko, this next year has a lot of adventures in store for you with new experiences, new discoveries and lots of PLAY! Happy Birthday, Kitoko!

Growing Up Gorilla
To keep up on all the antics of Kitoko, Yola and their new little sister, please we invite you to check out There you will find all the latest news about our gorilla youngsters! 

Celebrate Kitoko and his new baby sister
Share in the love and joy of Kitoko's birthday and the birth of his sister—Nadiri's new baby! We are throwing a virtual baby shower to celebrate the new little one and the joy she brings to Kitoko and our entire gorilla family. Gifts of any size help provide care for all our gorillas and they also help us to support their wild cousins!  Go to for more information.

Become a ZooParent and bring home a plush Kitoko of your own!
ZooParent adoptions—which can include a plush toy—are the perfect way to celebrate any occasion. Your ZooParent adoption helps us provide exceptional care for all of Woodland Park Zoo's amazing animals. Plus, your support contributes to our conservation efforts at the zoo and around the world.

Help gorillas in their natural range
Every visit to Woodland Park Zoo supports conservation of animals in the wild. Join the zoo by recycling old cell phones and other used handheld electronics through ECO-CELL to help preserve gorilla habitat. Reclaiming the minerals in electronics and diverting them from landfills help reduce demand for mining in gorilla habitat. Drop off used handheld electronics including cell phones, smartphones, iPods, iPads, tablets, adapters, chargers, MP3 players, handheld gaming systems and their accessories at drop boxes located at both zoo entrances or the gorilla overlook. Funds generated from ECO-CELL support the Mondika Gorilla Project and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.