Love at first sight

Zoo Berlin’s new gorilla gets a warm welcome

The first few hours that male gorilla Sango (14) spent in his new surroundings showed that even silverbacks have their soft side. With a shy glance here and a fleeting touch there, it seems that he and Zoo Berlin’s female gorilla Bibi (21) experienced love at first sight.

The team of zookeepers and curators observed the first encounters between the gorillas with bated breath. Once the mighty male had been given time to look around his new habitat, females Mpenzi (33), Bibi (21), and Djambala (17) were allowed in one after the other to say hi to the new guy. “Watching these first meetings was quite an experience for me as a veterinarian,” says Zoo Berlin’s ape curator Dr André Schüle. “We were able to observe gestures that we had never witnessed before in gorillas. Bibi, for example, presented the backs of her hands to the male gorilla as a sign that she likes him.” Bibi seemed head over heels from the moment she clapped eyes on 230-kilo Sango and would not leave his side, while Mpenzi and Djambala preferred to observe the silverback from a distance.

Bibi is known for her balanced and caring personality. She spent the first nine years of her life in a gorilla family at Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands. Apes learn a lot from each other within their groups, and observing other members of the species provides a good basis for learning how to raise offspring of their own. Hopes are now high that Sango and Bibi may produce young in the future. “Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in their natural habitat,” explains Zoo and Tierpark Director Dr Andreas Knieriem. “Our purpose as a zoo is that of a modern-day Noah’s Ark – and we want to make our contribution to the survival of this fascinating species.”