partners in the wild: gorillas return to the houston zoo

May 22, 2015—Gorillas in the wild face many threats. Their native habitat in central and west Africa is shrinking, largely due to the recent expansion of industry and the continued threat from hunting. However, the Houston Zoo is collaborating with several conservation organizations working in Africa to save wild gorillas. The zoo is also helping educate the community about threats faced by all gorillas through its new gorilla habitat.

Gorilla habitat

The new gorilla habitat educates the community about threats faced by all gorillas and about the Houston Zoo partnerships that focus on saving these animals in the wild. Photo credit: Houston Zoo staff photographer Stephanie Adams.

In December 2010, the Houston Zoo brought phase one of the 13-acre African Forest exhibit to life with naturalistic habitats for chimpanzees, giraffes, kudus, ostriches, zebra, cheetahs and three white rhinoceroses, one of which was named by Chevron as part of its initial contribution. Chevron also helped safely transport the rhinos from South Africa.

Now, the Houston Zoo has opened the second phase of the African Forest exhibit, featuring a state-of-the-art habitat highlighting seven western lowland gorillas who will serve in part as animal ambassadors to increase awareness of the need to protect their wild counterparts.

"Our ongoing partnership with the Houston Zoo and support of its conservation efforts are part of our commitment to protecting the environment wherever we do business," said Ali Moshiri, president of Chevron Africa and Latin America and board member of the Houston Zoo. "We are proud to support this vital community asset that the Houston public can enjoy and learn from."

Getting to Know the Gorillas

Many zoo visitors simply like to see gorillas because of their size, gentle nature and similarity to humans. Until recently, the single most requested animal not at the Houston Zoo was the gorilla. But after 11 years, thanks in part to Chevron, two troops of gorillas are now calling the new habitat home.

Western lowland gorillas are native to Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, where they live in the dense rain forests and currently number less than 35,000. The lowland gorillas at the Houston Zoo were all born and raised in other American zoos, and were specifically chosen to make the move to Houston as a part of the Species Survival Plan, a cooperation between accredited zoos and aquariums.

The habitat is home to two troops. One is a bachelor troop of three male gorillas—Chaka and Mike, who have lived together since 2004 at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, South Carolina, and Ajari, who joined them in 2013 from the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee. The other is a family troop, which includes Zuri, Holli and their daughter Sufi, from the Bronx Zoo, in New York as well as Binti, a female from Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. They range in age from 13 to 40.

The gorilla habitat begins with the Arrival Building, where visitors can see colorful red river hogs, selected to interact with the gorillas as they share the same forest lands in the wild. Next, the Forest Trail engulfs trekkers with large plants and trees. Guests can view gorillas as they walk through the treetops on an elevated boardwalk toward the Gathering Tent, where waterfalls run beneath. Next, pillars with African artwork guide guests along the pathway toward the Chevron Lookout, where gorillas can be seen below exploring through trees and greenery. At the end is the Gorilla Gathering Pool, a rocky landscaped pool that provides the gorillas with a place to cool off.

"We hope guests visit the gorillas at the Houston Zoo often to witness the beauty of this incredible species, and that the experiences they have inspire them to care about these and all animals in the wild," said Deborah Cannon, Houston Zoo CEO and president.

Published: May 2015