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The gorillas are celebrating Afia’s fourth birthday with presents full of their favourite foods!
Miracle gorilla Afia turns four years old on 12 February. She 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 she showed no maternal interest in Afia. Amazingly the Zoo’s most dominant female, Romina, stepped up and became a wonderful surrogate mum to her.
The pair were inseparable but sadly Romina developed inoperable cancer and shortly before Christmas 2018 she had to be put to sleep. 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, 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 and the six other gorillas at Bristol Zoo are vitally important to the survival of western lowland gorillas.
They are classified as Critically Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List and the gorillas at Bristol Zoo are part of a European breeding programme to safeguard these iconic animals.
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.”
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, which owns and runs Bristol Zoo, works with the University of the West of England in Equatorial Guinea to help protect Western lowland gorillas.
Together they are involved in setting up a research base where experts can focus their efforts on protecting these amazing creatures.
They are also 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.
The exact number of these Critically Endangered primates is not known because they inhabit some of the densest and remote rainforests in Africa; however, recent estimates have shown that as few as 360,000 remain across their range.
Stop by Gorilla Island next time you're at the Zoo and wave hello to Afia, or find out more about our Western lowland gorilla project here. You can also adopt Afia to help support our conservation work.
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