Kigali (pronounced “Key-gal-ee”) is the newest female Western Lowland Gorilla to call the Sedgwick County Zoo home. Kigali is nineteen years old and was born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She can be distinguished from Kivu by her smaller size and darker hair. Since everything in Wichita is new for her, she can best be described as curious. Kigali enjoys interacting with keepers and happily participates in training sessions. She is also quite the looker and everyone has noticed. As the other boy gorillas see her, a few have become infatuated with her. Even going so far as to park themselves where they can see her clearly and not go where keepers need them to. Matt is not so fond of other boys looking at his ladies but we are confident that with time, everyone will adjust and things will go back to normal.
Kigali arrived in Wichita on October 17th. Her transfer was part of a Species Survival Plan recommendation. Senior keeper of gorillas, Danielle, went out to D.C. about a week before the move to get to know Kigali. Then on October 15th, Kigali, Danielle and a keeper from the National Zoo loaded up into a special moving trailer and started the long journey.
She was brought straight to the gorilla building and immediately began her 30 day quarantine period. Kigali has been with her natal, or family, group since she was born. So this was her first big trip away from home. Keepers started acclimating her to the routine from the very beginning, as is normal anytime a gorilla is new to the area. We wanted to accomplish this slowly since everything was new to her. And like the champ she is, Kigali, or Kigs as the keepers call her, did great.
After she was clear of quarantine, we began to introduce her to the rest of the gorilla building and the other gorillas that would become her new family. Her first introduction was to Kivu, the first female gorilla to come to the Zoo. Up until this point there had always been a solid barrier between them. Then a part of the door was taken down and they had contact with the mesh barrier in between them. Zookeepers call this a “howdy” introduction. Kigali went immediately to the door to greet Kivu. She definitely missed being around other gorillas. Kivu was slightly more aloof but not completely disinterested. Kivu had some moving experience already, so we were confident that she would help Kigali adjust once they had full contact, which was definitely the case. When they were finally given full access to one another, Kigali’s first action was to go over and hug Kivu. Unfortunately for her, Kivu wasn’t quite that interested in being best friends yet. Kivu tolerated Kigali in her space as long as she stayed approximately arm’s length away. Keepers expected Kigali to push Kivu around some; so to have pretty much the opposite occur was surprising. Overall, it was still considered very successful. After about two days the girls were together permanently and it was decided to introduce Matt.
Introducing a family group is slightly different than introducing girls or even bachelor males. This is Matt’s first time being the silverback in a family group. Because Kigali is younger, a little more agile and louder than Kivu, her introduction with Matt was a little tenser. There was some yelling and chasing. As expected, Kivu did come to Kigali’s defense. It was great to see the girls had bonded so well. These are all very normal reactions during gorilla introductions. Matt has to exert himself as the silverback and let the girls know he’s in charge; or that they at least let him think he is. The yelling only really occurred on the first day of introductions with Matt. With each subsequent day of intros, the group became more confident with one another. Once keepers were sure of the bond the girls had and that the group’s confidence level was high, the determination was made to leave them together overnight. A calm, quiet night is a sure sign that a family’s bond has been established. A direct quote from the night keeper watching over them, “I saw Kigali sleeping in a hammock for the first time since she arrived.” Kigali’s normal nest spot had been up in one of the transfer chutes that lead from room to room. This definitely told us all was well with Matt’s new family.
The next step for the new family was to let them out to the exhibits. Matt and Kivu had been kept inside since Kigali’s arrival so they could get to know each other. Because Kigali hadn’t seen the indoor exhibit at all; we thought it would be best to give the girls a chance to go out first. However, the group’s bond was stronger than we thought and the girls would not leave the house without Matt. So we gave Matt access to his girls again and after about 15 minutes of not being certain of her new playground, Kigali was out and exploring! We closed the door and the family spent the whole day relaxing and enjoying the treats the keepers had put out on exhibit for them.
Matt, Kivu and Kigali will be kept on the indoor exhibit for the next several days to allow Kigali more time to become familiar with it. After that, we will go back to the normal routine of rotating the different gorilla groups through the exhibits. The entire team at The Downing Gorilla Forest is very excited because our family group is doing so well! The keepers are asked frequently when we can expect babies. The answer to that is: with time. Kigali still needs to be introduced to the outside exhibit and get more comfortable with a normal rotating routine. Our hope is that as things settle, nature will take its course. We promise to keep everyone posted. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to come out and meet Kigali and see the family together.