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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Can you Replace a Silverback?

That's a tall order. Finding a new silverback is particularly hard when the individual in question was as popular and loving as Nkosi, dad to Apollo and Bomassa.  As you'll recall, Nkosi was overwhelmed by and died from a massive bacterial infection just after the boys turned a year old. Things appear to be going well at the North Carolina Zoo now, and everyone is getting along pretty well. But it's not natural for female gorillas to live together and raise their baby boys absent a silverback. Zoos try very hard to replicate the conditions found in the wild, and therefore, it will be important to find a mature adult male at some point, and bring him to the zoo to join the troop. As of now, the timing has not been decided, but research is underway.

Unreplaceable! Nkosi gave a ride to his son Apollo. A very rare occurrence among silverbacks

Many factors will go into this decision, including genetics, temperament, age, availability and more. In order to preserve the option of further breeding, it will be important to bring in a male unrelated to at least some of the females. You can see by looking at the family trees of all the NC Zoo gorillas, that this was taken into account in the past. Acacia Gorilla's family tree shows every one of her forebears, all the way back to those gorillas originally brought in from the wild.  We've already done a tree for Bomassa, and one for Apollo. Each of those, in turn, incorporates the family tree of their father, Nkosi, and also of their respective moms. 

If you look at all three charts, which you can do right here in this set at Flickr, you will find no repetitions whatsoever, other than of course, the fact that our little gorilla boys Apollo and Bomassa share their paternal side. The three female gorillas at the North Carolina Zoo are not in any way related to each other, but more importantly, none of them was related to Nkosi, who was brought in specifically for babymaking! Careful planning went into making sure that no inbreeding would result from any of the potential matches. But there are other considerations, as well. For example, all the gorillas in the reconstituted troop need to be able to get along well. It will take quite a while for the NCZoo and the volunteers at the Gorilla Species Survival Plan to find the right silverback. No matter who they settle on, he will never truly replace the beloved Nkosi, but hopefully things will go well for all concerned.