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Three cheers for the birthday girl! Happy birthday, Zuna!

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ZUNA! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

We are celebrating a big milestone for the littlest member of our western lowland gorilla family—and for her mother, Nadiri too. Zuna turns 1 year old in a few days, and it’s been quite a year for this feisty little girl!

Nadiri didn't initially pick up her newborn so our amazing gorilla keepers immediately stepped up, providing round-the-clock care for baby Zuna's first days. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Zuna came into this world on January 29, 2021—the second baby for Nadiri, and the first between her and dad, Kwame. It was a bit of a bumpy start, though, for both mother and daughter. Nadiri didn’t initially pick up her baby to nurse. So shortly after birth, gorilla keepers and veterinary staff stepped in to provide round-the-clock care for the baby including bottle feeding her human infant formula, keeping her warm and providing lots of visits with her mother. Within days, thanks to the hard work of our experienced gorilla keepers, Nadiri was picking up her baby and holding her. The two were bonding! During this past year, Zuna and Nadiri have been able to give each exactly what the other needed. The bond that’s developed between them has bolstered Nadiri’s confidence as a parent, and has given Zuna a nurturing and loving start to her life.

Within days, Zuna was back in the arms of her loving mother, Nadiri. Photo: Judy Sievert/Woodland Park Zoo
During those early days, Nadiri—who wasn’t able to nurse—and the gorilla keepers developed a wonderful “tag-team” method for Zuna’s bottles. Every two to three hours—day and night—Nadiri brought Zuna over to an area in the behind-the-scenes bedrooms where our dedicated keepers were able to offer her a warm bottle of formula. 

That face! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Gorilla babies usually continue to nurse for several years, so at one year old Zuna is still getting two bottles of formula a day from the gorilla keepers—one in the morning during breakfast and another in the evening during dinner. She’s also starting to drink out of a cup.

Zuna is right where she belongs, holding hands with mama and surrounded by the love of her family. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

For solid food she gets pieces of yam, carrot, some fruit, pieces of chow (like a special kind of nutritious biscuit), greens and browse (plant materials such as fresh leaves, branches, stems and flowers). She really enjoys tasting (and playing with) her solid foods, especially raw yam, kale, romaine, and fruit. 

Zuna is still getting two bottles of formula a day—and is sampling lots of solid foods too! Favorites include yam, kale, romaine and fruit. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

A Year Full of Bleps!
Is she blowing raspberries? Trying to taste everything around her? Whatever the reason, Zuna’s regular habit of sticking out her tongue—something she has done since the day she was born—has become her “signature move” … and we LOVE it!

A year full of Zuna is a year full of bleps. You're welcome! Photos: Woodland Park Zoo
Nadiri still keeps a pretty close eye on her baby and often keeps her within an arm’s reach, but Zuna is definitely exercising her independence these days. She takes every opportunity to wander away from mom for some playtime with other family members—and she has quite a few willing playmates to choose from! The most rough-and-tumble play sessions (think best gorilla play sessions ever!) usually involve her half-brother, Kitoko who will be 2-years-old soon. These two youngsters engage in epic windmill-armed wrestling matches.

12 moments of fun to celebrate 12 months of Zuna! Watch here:

Even though Zuna is the smaller of the two, don’t think for a minute that she can’t hold her own. This girl is feisty and determined, which means the shenanigans may only come to an end when one of their mothers, or their father, Kwame, decides it’s time. Then again, Kwame is very much a “big kid” himself and is just as likely to join in the wrestling as he is to referee it! #DadGoals 

Zuna spends lots of time playing every day. Regular playmates include half-brother Kitoko and dad, Kwame. Photo: Kaye Cartwright/Woodland Park Zoo

Zuna’s playtime also includes time for learning some life skills from the adults in her family. Lately that includes time to practice making a nest with wood wool (thin wood shavings), pieces of burlap, hay, sticks and other items around her. Nadiri and aunt Akenji are both very skilled nest makers, so learning how to build a cozy place to settle in might be in her DNA—or perhaps she has learned by watching them. Either way, when she’s not on the move, Zuna is already showing she knows how to get ready for naptime like a pro. 

Our gorilla keepers have seen Zuna practice her nest building skills with pieces of burlap, wood wool, sticks and plant material. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Big brother, Kitoko, is always ready to play with Zuna! Photo: Kaye Cartwright/Woodland Park Zoo

Surrounded by Family
Zuna’s future is bright. Her mother, Nadiri, has proven to be a wonderful, loving and nurturing parent. She has older half-siblings Kitoko and Yola (who is 6 years old) to play with—plus a really patient and engaged father in Kwame. Other family members in her orbit include Kitoko’s mother, Uzumma, and aunt Akenji. 

Life looks pretty good when viewing it from the loving arms of your mom. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo 

Zuna’s very presence is enriching for this multigenerational gorilla family. Of course there’s a lot of fun and playtime for everyone, but babies and youngsters also add to the sense of bonding and cohesion for the whole group. We love them and we know you do, too. 

Nadiri keeps a watchful eye on her feisty girl! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo 

Inspiration for Conservation
Zuna, Kitoko, Yola and all our gorillas also inspire us to take action for their endangered cousins in the wild. Every time you visit our gorilla family, a portion of your admission or membership helps us to support conservation partners, like the Mondika Gorilla Project and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Zuna loves a good play sesh with big sister, Yola! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

You can also help gorillas by recycling your old cell phones and other used handheld electronics. Woodland Park Zoo partners with the ECO-CELL recycling program which helps reduce the demand for coltan, an ore used to extend battery life in phones. By extracting coltan from old cell phones, ECO-CELL cuts down on the need for mining in gorilla habitat and can sell the ore to be reused. Every dollar goes directly back into gorilla conservation. You can drop off your old electronic devices at any of our donation bins at zoo entrances or near the gorilla habitat inside. Click here to learn more.

You can help save gorillas and gorilla habitat by recycling your old hand-held electronic devices at the zoo. Photo: Elizabeth Bacher/Woodland Park Zoo

Become a ZooParent in Honor of Zuna's Birthday!
A ZooParent adoption—which can include a plush toy—makes a great gift for the little wildlife warrior in your life and is the perfect way to celebrate Zuna’s birthday, too! ZooParent adoptions help us provide exceptional care for Zuna, her family and all of our amazing animals! It also helps us support conservation efforts around the world and here in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo


Hiker Chick said…
Beautiful photos and video. Amazing species; thanks for playing a role in conservation!