'allo 'allo, meet the gentle giant from France who's here for love

Deborah Smith April 04, 2012

'allo 'allo ... Kibali makes himself at home at Taronga after flying from France.

'allo 'allo ... Kibali makes himself at home at Taronga after flying from France. Photo: Taronga zoo

There is a new French lover in town.

Kibali, a male gorilla from France, has arrived at Taronga Zoo and is already living with a Sydney-born female gorilla called Kimya.

The 11-year old paramour was specially selected for his genes and his calm personality as part of a global effort to breed and protect critically endangered Western Lowland Gorillas.

Although Kibali is still an adolescent, with black fur, he will eventually become the new silverback for the Sydney colony, able to mate with other females to expand the group's genetic diversity.

He will have big footsteps to fill, with the current silverback, Kibabu, having sired 14 offspring.

Erna Walraven, the zoos' senior curator, said a network of more than 600 zoos across the world work together "like a giant Noah's Ark" to help save many threatened species.

Taronga staff visited European zoos in 2011 to select the best new male for Sydney.

She said Kibali's French birthplace, La Vallee des Singes in Romagne, had a community of gorillas that behaved in a similar manner to a wild group, just as Taronga's group, which originally came from Holland in 1996, does.

“Our gorilla family are renowned for their stability, natural behaviours and breeding successes, so we wanted a male who knew how to live in a natural family situation, had seen females give birth and rear their own young and who had been privileged enough to learn good leadership traits by watching another successful silverback," she said.

Primate Manager, Lou Grossfeldt, said his arrival was exciting. "He's a very gentle gorilla and has a really calm nature. In years to come I think he'll be an exceptional leader.”

She said seven year old Kimya's name meant "quiet one" in Swahili. "So they're a good match in terms of temperament and age."

In the wild, both adolescents would have been getting ready to leave their maternal groups in search of a mate.

"We've just helped them out with that process," she said.

Fewer than 100,000 Western Lowland Gorillas remain in the wild.

Male gorillas born at Taronga now reside in Japanese and European zoos, introducing their important genetics and establish their own breeding groups.

Taronga also works with the Great Ape Survival Project to help conserve the Cross River Gorilla, of which less than 200 individuals remain in the wild.

Financial assistance helps employ wildlife rangers to patrol the areas where this critically endangered species is found. the zoo said.

Taronga visitors can also help struggling wild gorilla populations by recycling their old mobile phones which lessens mining in gorilla habitat for a mineral called coltan which is used in many electronics.

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