First-time mother Calaya gave birth to her son, Moke - pronounced mo-KEY - a western lowland gorilla, on Sunday at the Smithsonian National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C. Born on April 15, the baby is named Moke, which means "junior" or "little one" in the Lingala language.
It was the first time in nine years a gorilla has given birth at the zoo with officials capturing the moment on film and sharing it on social media and their website.
They also prepared Calaya for motherhood by showing her photos of mother gorillas and giving her a plush gorilla toy to touch, kiss and practice nursing. Because of the gorilla's endangered status, Moke makes an incredibly exciting and valuable addition.
Zoo staff are ecstatic at Calaya's success in carrying Moke, and say initial impressions are that he will thrive in his mother's care.
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Since Calaya's pregnancy was confirmed using a standard human pregnancy test in fall 2017, staff have been getting ready for Moke's arrival. Mandara successfully fostered six infants, and she was ready to step in if Calaya had difficulty with her son, but it looks like Calaya and Moke will get along just fine as mother and son. The Great Ape House is closed to provide Calaya a quiet space to bond with her infant. "Doing so required great patience and dedication on the part of my team, and I am very proud of them and Calaya".
Westen lowland gorillas are native to Africa and live in the forests of Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Cameroon, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Congo.
Their numbers are estimated to have declined by over 60 percent during the last 20-25 years and despite vast conservation efforts they remain listed as "critically endangered" by the World Wildlife organisation.