Zoo Celebrates Birth of Baby Gorilla

(February 16, 2012)—There are a lot of “ooohs” and “awws” heard in the Tropical Forest near the western lowland gorilla troop enclosure lately. The group welcomed a new baby boy last Thursday morning. The new baby is the first gorilla born at the Zoo since 2001.

Moka, the mom, loves to sit near the window and show the visitors her pride and joy. “Moka is a first time mom so we were anxious to see how she would handle motherhood, but she is doing a great job,” says Karen Vacco, assistant curator of mammals. “The baby is nursing and Moka holds him tightly against her chest.” Moka was raised by her mother and has a younger sister, so she learned maternal behavior when she was growing up.

Keepers will continue to monitor baby and mom to ensure that they are both doing well. “The birth of Moka’s baby is an important event in Zoo history,” says Ms. Vacco.  The baby’s father, Mrithi, was the first gorilla born at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Mrithi’s parents were wild caught, so his genetics are valuable to the western lowland gorilla species in North America.

Even though he is a first time dad, Mrithi is very relaxed. He inspected the baby after its birth and has been staying close to Moka, but not interfering. “The rest of the gorilla troop has been curious but respectful,” says Roseann Giambro, gorilla keeper. “They will take their cues from mom who will let them know when she is comfortable with them being close to her baby.”

Moka was born at the Miami Zoo and arrived at the Pittsburgh Zoo in 2007 in hopes of breeding with silverback and troop leader Mrithi. At first, keepers were not optimistic because Mrithi and Moka were not interested in each other. Moka is smart and curious, but aloof and preferred to be by herself. She completely ignored Mrithi’s advances. Gradually, attitudes changed, and the pair was spotted together.

Western lowland gorillas are endangered. In 2007, scientists estimated their population to be just about 100,000 in the wild, but an outbreak of Ebola destroyed much of the population dropping their numbers to 30,000. But the Wildlife Conservation Society made an amazing discovery—a population of 125,000 western lowland gorillas—was found living in the northern Republic of Congo. Though this is great news, western lowland gorilla populations are still in peril due to loss of habitat, poaching, and disease. One of the main threats is mining. Coltan, a mineral used to make cell phone batteries and other devices is mined in Central Africa. As the demand for battery-powered devices occurs, there is a corresponding increase in mining, destroying the gorilla’s natural habitat.  


  • Moka’s name is a combination of the two cities where her parents were born—Miami and Oklahoma.
  • Mrithi was the first gorilla born at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and now he is a dad.
  • Western lowland gorillas are the largest and heaviest living primates.
  • Gorillas can live 35 years in the wild and as long as 50 years in zoos.
  • Western lowland gorillas are the only species of gorillas that visitors can see in zoos.