The gorillas at Bristol Zoo Gardens are celebrating the fourth birthday of ‘miracle gorilla’ Afia on Weds 12 February.
Afia made headlines around the world when she was delivered by emergency caesarean section after her mother, Kera, showed symptoms of potentially life-threatening pre-eclampsia.
Kera recovered but when she showed no maternal interest in Afia the Zoo’s most dominant female, Romina, stepped up and became a wonderful surrogate mum.
The pair were inseparable but sadly Romina developed inoperable cancer and died shortly before Christmas 2018. Since then the Zoo’s other western lowland gorillas have rallied round to offer Afia support, including the group’s silverback, Jock.
Lynsey Bugg, Curator of Mammals at Bristol Zoo, said: “Afia is amazing. After losing Romina she has become a lot more independent but she has also become very close to Jock. They sleep close to each other and he has been seen to pull her close so he can groom her, a behaviour we rarely see from him which demonstrates a very close bond between the pair.”
Afia’s fourth birthday is especially significant because it marks the end of keepers giving her a daily feed of milk, which they have done every day of her life.
Lynsey said: “She only has 200 millilitres each day so it’s really just a token gesture but it will come to an end on her fourth birthday as she doesn’t need that sort of help from us any longer. She has done really well.”
Afia and the six other gorillas at Bristol Zoo are vitally important to the survival of western lowland gorillas. Classified as Critically Endangered, the gorillas at Bristol Zoo are part of a European breeding programme to safeguard these iconic animals.
Western lowland gorillas come from an area of dense forest and swamp, which covers South East Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Their native forests are being exploited for their timber, which opens up routes into the forest providing easier access to hunters who kill gorillas for bush meat and trophies.
Bristol Zoological Society are working in Equatorial Guinea to help protect Western lowland gorillas by setting up a research base and placing camera traps around the National Park to determine how the gorillas are using the forest and to estimate the size of their population. Scientists believe that gorilla numbers have declined by more than 60 per cent over the last 20 to 25 years.
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