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12 April 2012

The Zoo's Primate Department is celebrating a special anniversary this month, because the innovative Gorilla Rainforest opened on April 11, 1990.

This exhibit was a significant ‘first' for Melbourne Zoo—the first exhibit designed so that the external landscaping prompted people to feel that they are sharing the gorillas' leafy habitat.

Yuska is the only gorilla in the present group who was in the new exhibit on opening day.

She made history as Australia's first-ever gorilla mother when Mzuri was born in 1984 and again in 1999 when Yakini was born.

The other three gorillas with Yuska on April 11, 1990 were Mzuri and two older individuals, Betsey and Buluman, who had arrived from Taronga Zoo in 1991.

Since then, other gorillas have joined or left the group and another five babies have been born.

Melbourne Zoo is linked with European zoos within the international breeding program for the critically endangered Western Lowland Gorillas.

Mzuri was transferred to a leading U.K. zoo as part of that program, and both Betsey and Buluman lived into old age before their deaths.

The arrival of the seven-year-old male Motaba from the U.K. in 1990 was a significant step in Melbourne Zoo's participation in the breeding program.

Motaba sired five young before being retired from breeding and moving into the new bachelor exhibit at Werribee Open Range Zoo in 2011.

Motaba and Betsey produced two offspring: Buzandi, now the silverback at Hannover Zoo in Germany, and the female Bambuti, now at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust on the Channel Island of Jersey.

Motaba is also the father of Yakini, who is now sharing the new bachelor exhibit at Werribee.

Motaba was born at the Jersey Zoo, and in 1997 two females arrived from there. He bred with both G-Ann and Julia.

In 2000, G-Ann gave birth to Ganyeka, who is now at Werribee with his half-brother Yakini and his father, Motaba.

Julia and her female offspring Jumatano, born in 2000, are both still in the Gorilla Rainforest. A young female, Mbeli, arrived from Taronga Zoo in 2010 and is a close companion of Jumatano.

Melbourne Zoo is one of 150 zoological institutions worldwide participating in this species survival breeding program. The population within these participating zoos totals 856 Western Lowland Gorillas.

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