Hi there! My name is Samantha, and I am one of the gorilla keepers here at Philadelphia Zoo. Today, I want to talk about Kira, our younger female gorilla.
Kira moved here from the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston two years ago on a breeding recommendation. Kristen, her primary keeper, and I got the opportunity to visit Kira while she was still at the Franklin Park Zoo, about 8 months before she moved here. That was a really cool experience because we were able to get to know Kira and her keepers before she made the move to Philly. We saw her interact with her troop members, got some insight on her daily routine, and began to develop a relationship and learn about her personality. I like to think it also made the move to a new place a little more comfortable for her. Not only did two of her keepers escort her for the trip here and stay for several days while she got accustomed to our facility, but Kira also recognized Kristen and me upon her arrival.
From the beginning, Kira fit right in. She is a very laid-back gorilla and gets along easily with gorillas and keepers alike. At 15 years old, she is five years younger than her fellow female troop member, Honi, and she accepted the role as the less dominant female in the troop with no problem. In gorilla troops, the silverback naturally takes the role as the most dominant member of the troop, but there is also a pecking order among the females in the troop. The more dominant members typically enjoy first dibs on food and enrichment, the best nesting spots, or more of the silverback's attention. It all depends on the individual gorillas and their troop.
Although Kira is technically less dominant, you wouldn't know it by watching her at mealtime. Honi isn't as food-motivated and doesn't mind that Kira vacuums up the food as quickly as she can. Kira can usually be spotted using both hands to shovel food into her mouth. Kira's food motivation makes her good at figuring out enrichment such as puzzle feeders. It also makes her good at training since she is very eager to earn the treats that we use for positive reinforcement in training sessions.
Kira is very easy to tell apart from Honi because she weighs about 240 pounds, while Honi is a bit more petite, weighing about 200 pounds. Kira also has a strap of reddish brown fur going across her lower back, while Honi is all black.
One other distinguishing characteristic about Kira is that she is absolutely smitten with our silverback, Motuba. She sits close to him whenever possible and stares at him intently. If you see one of our girls gazing lovingly at Motuba, it's most likely Kira. Though we decided to let the gorillas take things slow and really get to know each other before reproducing, we can happily report that they are now a very stable and cohesive troop, so we hope to see babies sometime in the near future.
By Samantha Nestor, Primate Keeper