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World Wildlife Day and Kitoko's 2nd Birthday are reasons to celebrate

Posted by Lauren Carroll-Bolger, Communications
Photos by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

March 3 is United Nations (UN) World Wildlife Day focused on “Recovering Key Species for Ecosystem Restoration.” The zoo joins the UN in highlighting the status of critically endangered species, like Kitoko and the western lowland gorilla, and promoting sustainable use of habitats to ensure the planet’s ecosystem can thrive. We are also celebrating the 2nd birthday of western lowland gorilla, Kitoko. 

Since March 4, 2020, bright-eyed and curious Kitoko has melted hearts and grown from a small baby in the arms of his mother Uzumma to a 30-pound, adventurous climber leaping off the ledges of anything he can climb. He has become the class clown of the gorilla bunch and revels in rambunctious play sessions with his 1-year-old half-sister, Zuna, and 6-year-old family member, Yola.

“Kitoko doesn’t mind being out of Uzumma’s sight if that means he can play with Zuna and Yola,” said Martin Ramirez, mammal curator of Woodland Park Zoo. The energetic toddler has also “developed a laugh that is unusual for a gorilla, and he does it all the time,” said Ramirez. In a very short time, he has succeeded in utterly charming his animal keepers and guests.

Kitoko’s relatives, the western lowland gorilla, live in tropical rain forests spanning seven countries across west equatorial Africa. The species is critically endangered due in part to increased logging activities destroying their forest habitat. Forests are a part of a healthy ecosystem providing essential habitats for wildlife, such as gorillas, and contributing to the livelihood and well-being of humans.

The Mondika Gorilla Project, a Woodland Park Zoo Conservation Partner, is taking on the challenge of improving the forest habitat and conservation status of the African apes by addressing the multiple threats to their survival. A key step in this process is to protect the intact rain forest landscape of the Djéké Triangle the apes inhabit by adding it to the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo.

“This area of rain forest is incredibly important for gorillas, chimpanzees and an enormous number of other wildlife species,” said Peter Zahler, vice president of conservation initiatives of Woodland Park Zoo. “The Congo forest basin is also one of the most important places on the planet in terms of sequestering carbon to combat the threat of climate change, so protecting this landscape has global significance beyond protecting biodiversity.”

The Mondika Gorilla Project is not working alone in this endeavor. “The program’s integration with local communities including 40 indigenous BaYaka peoples has been core to their success,” said Zahler. “Their direct involvement as trackers and research assistants has provided jobs as well as built ownership over conservation efforts.” For people who rely on these forests, this project supports their livelihoods and empowers them to address enduring challenges facing conservation efforts in their homes.

Woodland Park Zoo is partnering with its guests and community to help preserve the western lowland gorillas’ habitat by recycling old cell phones and other used handheld electronics through ECO-CELL. Recycling these electronic items reclaims and reduces the demand of coltan – an ore used to extend battery life in handheld electronic items such as phones and whose mines destroy the western lowland gorillas’ habitat. ECO-CELL drop boxes are located at both zoo entrances and at the gorilla overlook, and funds generated from ECO-CELL support the Mondika Gorilla Project and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

On Endangered Species Day in 2020, Kitoko was given his name by Woodland Park Zoo Board member Rosemarie Havranek and her family, Nathan, Cameron, and Conor Myhrvold, who are long-time, generous supporters of the zoo and its conservation mission.

“Kitoko and all Woodland Park Zoo’s animals provide us with the opportunity to discover, recover and coexist with endangered wildlife. The UN World Wildlife Day 2022 is an opportunity for us to highlight the actions we can all take to restore forest habitats and ensure our planet’s ecosystem can thrive, like recycling used electronics at the zoo through the ECO-CELL drop offs,” said Zahler.

Get the latest scoop on all the young gorillas at Woodland Park Zoo by visiting