Saambili, the first baby gorilla born at the Dallas Zoo in 20 years, turned 1 this past Tuesday. The staff presented her with a fruit-and-veggie cake with ice treats that spelled her name and age on a bed of kale.
Saambili, who showed up to her party riding on her mother’s back, celebrated her first birthday with her troop. The Dallas Zoo looks after 10 gorillas divided into two groups. The bachelor troop lives on the south side of the Gorilla Trail, and the family troop can be found on the north side.
Zoo visitors enjoy the birthday girl's playful antics and inquisitive nature. Saambili is becoming more independent as time goes by, and is beginning to socialize with other troop members. Her favorite playmate for now is “Aunt” Shanta. The baby gorilla weighs 18 pounds and is beginning to show typical gorilla behavior, such as vocalization or chest beating — which, for now, she does in a playful manner. She also laughs when tickled and makes happy sounds when she eats.
Saambili was the first critically endangered baby gorilla to be born in Dallas in 20 years. Her mother, 22-year-old Hope, delivered Saambili after being in labor for over an hour. Her father, Subira, was a first-time dad. The baby gorilla was named after a caretaker called Aldegande Saambili, who works for GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. GRACE works in partnership with the Dallas Zoo.
Saambili is also a big sister to Mbani, who is the second western lowland gorilla to be born in Dallas in 50 years. Western lowland gorilla is the subspecies cared for by the zoo. Saambili has already shown interest in her new playdate, and their frolicking steals visitors hearts.
Having two baby gorillas at the same time is a first for Dallas Zoo’s caretakers. Mbani, a baby male, was named after the Mbani River in Gabon's Moukakaba-Doudon National Park. The park has the highest primate population in the Central African country.
The new baby was born to 13-year-old Megan and Subira, which makes her Saambili’s half-brother. Megan and Subira were paired on the recommendation of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan in an attempt to grow the western lowland gorilla population in North America. It is thought that there are as few as 350,000 specimens left in Africa, which spurs conservation efforts.
Dallas Zoo gorilla caretakers say that Saambili brings joy to visitors and that they've enjoyed watching her grow this year. They also hope she will continue to inspire people to get involved in the protection of endangered species. Habitat destruction through coltan mining, poaching for meat, trafficking and disease have contributed to the decline of the gorilla population in Africa.
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There are two ways visitors can join in the zoo’s effort to save the gorillas and make a difference. One is to symbolically adopt an animal. The other is to donate old cellphones and other electronics like tablets, which can be dropped off with a staff member at the membership services booth or in the drop box at the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Center at the Dallas Zoo.
A big part of the Dallas Zoo's mission is to protect and conserve endangered species in the long term, both in the wild and in captivity. In the case of gorillas, the zoo has partnered with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in addition to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE).
Watch the video of Saambili's first birthday below: