Kuchimba is our 12-year-old male gorilla, and the son of Honi. Weighing in at just over 300 pounds, Kuchimba is significantly smaller than our other males, Louis and Motuba. As a matter of fact, Kuchimba is close to fully grown at this point—he'll fill out a bit more, but neither his mom nor his dad are large animals, so as far as genetics go, he's just not going to be a huge silverback like Motuba or Louis (shh, don't tell him that!).
Kuchimba has started his color change, meaning that the hair on his back and thighs has started to turn silver (hence the name "silverback"). The silver hair, along with an enlarged sagittal crest on top of his head, indicates that Kuchimba is a sexually mature male. (Fun gorilla fact: an older juvenile male gorilla is called a “blackback.”)
Kuchimba has long been a favorite among his keepers, as he's always been the youngest and a bit of an "underdog" due to his small stature. I'm pretty sure he doesn't recognize this. Only recently did he undergo an impressive growth spurt—before that, he was less than half of the size of Louis, who he used to live with full-time! Even then, he wouldn't hesitate to steal a favorite food item or try to initiate play when Louis wasn't in the mood. Louis, while generally very patient with Kuchimba, wouldn't hesitate to remind Kuchimba who was in charge. The two don't live together full-time anymore, but we put them together a couple of times each week for regular play dates, which both seem to enjoy very much. Kuchimba has matured a great deal over the last year or so, and he clearly understands his role and position in the pair much better now, allowing them to get along well.
Kuchimba has a couple of quirks that make him really special to me. He has a vocalization that he makes whenever he hears a telephone ring. We call it his "phone vocalization." It doesn't matter if it's a land line in the gorilla area or a cell phone with a different ringtone—as soon as he hears it he kind of shouts and starts running around (don’t worry, he calms down quickly!). Another quirk is that he is very messy! This is in stark contrast to Louis, who is our tidiest gorilla and will actually “clean up” after himself by shoving any poop he finds through the front of his rooms so as not to step in it. Kuchimba, on the other hand, won't hesitate to run through it, step in it, and sometimes—I swear—he even fingerpaints with it and makes a royal mess. Gross!
Quirkiness aside, Kuchimba is a total sweetheart to his keepers. He's seriously one of the most gentle beings I've ever met. He's a really good boy, and while he can sometimes be a pest to his conspecifics because of his neverending desire to play, he's never mean or aggressive towards them. The worst that he'll do is throw straw or mulch at Louis to try and initiate play. While I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have a lot of friends if I did that, Louis does seem to understand that it's really just playful in nature.
By Kristen Farley-Rambo, Primary Gorilla Keeper