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Nadaya and his Woodland Park Zoo family

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Nadaya is such a handsome silverback! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Lots of you have been asking for updates on our western lowland gorilla families. Let’s start with Nadaya, our silverback who is about to celebrate a birthday, turning 22 on April 4. Nadaya lives with three females, Olympia, Jamani and Jumoke. You may remember that Nadaya, Olympia and Jamani all arrived here at Woodland Park Zoo last year to form a new family group with Jumoke, who had been living alone since Vip (her male companion) died in 2021. We are happy to report that this group is doing great together, and they seem relaxed and at ease in each other’s company—a very good sign of bonding.

Nadaya and Olympia. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Our gorilla keepers already know Jumoke—and they’re thrilled to see her thriving as an active part of a family group once again—but these last few months have given them time to get to know the individual personalities and preferences of the newest gorillas, and to build trusting relationships with them, too. As it happens, one of our keepers even had a bit of a head start with one of them: Nadaya.

Nadaya, seen on the left with his mother Baraka in 2001, was the first offspring of his parents—and he was an ADORABLE baby! Photos courtesy of Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo

Nadaya’s name comes from the Nigerian language Hausa where “na daya” means “first” or “first one”—a fitting name for the first offspring of his parents. Nadaya was born in April 2001 in Chicago—where one of our gorilla keepers, Rachel, was studying primatology at the time. This included plenty of research time at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, where Nadaya was a baby and where Rachel later became a primate keeper. Both as a student researcher and as an animal keeper, Rachel’s time there with Nadaya and his family spanned from his infancy until he was almost 9 years old.

Nadaya as an infant in 2001 with mother Baraka (left) and at 3 years old in 2004 with grandmother Babs (right). Photos courtesy of Jan Parkes

Fast forward to 2022. Rachel has been a gorilla keeper at Woodland Park Zoo for nearly 10 years and the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) was working with our Animal Care team to identify the right silverback to form a new family group with Jumoke and two other females who were coming to join her.

A silverback is an adult male, so named for the silvery hairs that grow on his back and thighs when they become mature at about 13 - 15 years old. They play a vital role in a gorilla family by protecting and maintaining peace amongst the group. But before becoming a silverback, adolescent blackback males that are too old to stay with the social family they were born into but not quite mature enough to lead their own group often live in bachelor groups. Both in the wild and in accredited zoos around the world, bachelor groups can offer social development opportunities for these silverbacks-in-the-making.

Nadaya at 8 years old. Photo courtesy of Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo

The SSP recommended a male from a bachelor group at Saint Louis Zoo as the right choice for Woodland Park Zoo. These recommendations are based on more than just genetics. Yes, a good genetic match is important for the long-term survival of the zoo population and the health of each individual—but with gorillas, temperament and personality are equally important, and finding just the right fit for Jumoke and the other two females who were coming to join her in 2022 was a priority.

Nadaya is a relaxed, calm and mature leader for his family. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

There were several males in the Saint Louis bachelor group that could be a good match, but one in particular caught the attention of Rachel and the other members of our Animal Care team—Nadaya! The calm and silly youngster that Rachel remembered from Brookfield Zoo had moved to Saint Louis Zoo with his brother when they were older. All members of our gorilla team agreed that the experience Nadaya gained while growing up as part of a large, playful, multi-generational family of females, babies, and other males suggested he could be the perfect fit to become the leader of his own group in Seattle.

When it comes to moving gorillas, it is important that they feel comfortable for the journey and can settle properly in their new home—so an animal keeper who they’re familiar with always travels with them. In Nadaya’s case, that was going to include one of the keepers from Saint Louis Zoo and Rachel who flew out to Saint Louis a couple days early to allow time for her and Nadaya to get reacquainted before the trip back to Seattle last June.

Nadaya is about as handsome as they come ... and the females who live with him surely think so too! Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

When she finally got a chance to visit him behind the scenes, Rachel says that both Nadaya and his brother Bakari, who also lived in that bachelor group, immediately seemed comfortable in her presence—perhaps a sign they recognized and remembered her. While the other members of the group greeted her with the expected male displays of chest beating, posturing, rushing around, making noise, and avoiding eye contact, Nadaya and his brother both looked at her and greeted her with calmness and light “content grunt” vocalizations—a sort of low rumble suggesting feelings of contentment and being at ease.

Over the next couple of days, Rachel says Nadaya spent quite a bit of time just calmly watching her and sitting nearby on the other side of the exhibit windows from her or at the access door that leads to the area where the animal keepers work—a sure sign that he was comfortable. Nadaya was ready to begin his next chapter and to meet his new family.

Nadaya is an adept and confident climber. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Now, almost a year later, Nadaya has settled into his new role here at Woodland Park Zoo and is proving to be a relaxed, calm and mature leader for his family—yet some of the fun he loved as a youngster is still part of his routine. When he was little, he loved climbing up high onto the structures in his habitat at Brookfield Zoo, where he could watch people from above. Although a lot bigger now (he weighs in at about 420 pounds) he is still an excellent climber and he loves to take in the views of everything and everyone around him.

Nadaya enjoys sitting on things and even putting his feet up—much like an easy chair and ottoman. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Even when he’s not up high, our animal keepers say he prefers to sit on top of things as opposed to being directly on the ground. It might be a hammock or even a rubber tub which he likes to both sit on top of or flip over to sit inside it. He has a (VERY sturdy) shower chair in one of his behind-the-scenes rooms that he likes to sit in, with his feet propped up on whatever smaller object he can find to serve as a footstool—much like an easy chair and ottoman. All the while, he likes being close to all the females in his group. When it comes to food, Nadaya’s favorites are romaine, peanuts, grapes and bananas.

Other than being near his females, Nadaya's favorite things include romaine, peanuts, grapes and bananas. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Nadaya, Jumoke (37 years old), Olympia (26), and Jamani (22) are all bonding and doing well together. Other than separating them for some one-on-one training behind the scenes (which helps build trust between the gorillas and our animal keepers), all three females like to be near Nadaya.

Social status among the females in a gorilla family can be a fluid thing—changing with time as the structure of the group evolves or changes. All of these females have, at different times, had a dominant streak depending on what’s at stake and who is nearby—but by and large, they all get along well.

Jumoke is the dominant female in Nadaya's family. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Jumoke tends to be the highest-ranking female right now—especially in Nadaya’s eyes. She seems to know just how to “flatter” him when he shows off his silverback swagger and how to mollify him if he is tense or upset.

Amongst the females, Jumoke hadn’t shared a particularly close relationship with any of them in her previous group, but that has changed this time around. In this grouping, our gorilla keepers say that she has formed a wonderful bond with both Jamani and Olympia. Some of you may remember that Jamani and Jumoke are actually related (they likely don’t realize it) through our beloved late silverback Pete, who passed away in 2018. Jumoke is Jamani’s great aunt and now they are troop mates!

Jamani is a very socially-savvy gorilla. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

Jamani seems to get along equally with each individual in her group and she knows how to adapt to different personalities and expectations. In short, she's a very socially-savvy gorilla. Some of her favorite foods are fruit and popcorn and she loves finding snacks hidden in food-puzzle toys.

Olympia was a dominant female in her previous grouping at North Carolina Zoo, where she lived with Jamani, but her demeanor now is more one of sweetness, sensitivity and subordination to both the other females. Her favorite snacks are fruit and rose petals.

Beautiful Olympia is sweet and sensitive. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

So what does the future hold for Nadaya and his females? Parenthood is most likely in the plans for this group—not now, but sometime in the next year or two it is likely that one of the females in this group will become pregnant. We have no doubt that Nadaya will make a great father and a baby is always a joyous and exciting addition for any family—including a gorilla family. Until then, we are just happy to watch the bonds grow closer with this group—and we hope you enjoy seeing them together.

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Anonymous said…
This is one of the best gorilla posts I have ever read! Informative, interesting, entertaining. Just so well written. I have never seen these gorillas - but through this post I felt I was given a glimpse of their personality. I now want to travel to Seattle and visit them all...although I live in the UK. In the meantime I'm going to hopefully catch some videos on YT. Thank you for this fantastic post! ❣️🦍❣️