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28 January 2014

Male gorilla Otana celebrated a milestone today: his first birthday in Australia.

His 13th birthday ‘cake’ was suitably summery, an icy tower of treats, from green peas to watermelon and berries.  

Otana helped himself to about half of the goodies, and then stepped away so the females in the group could share the rest of his party treat.

Senior Primate Keeper Damian Lewis says that Otana has settled in well since he arrived in September from England, where he was born at Howlett’s Wild Animal Park.

Otana was selected to be the group leader and future breeding male following the death in July of the Zoo’s much-loved silverback, Rigo.

Damian travelled to England to get to know Otana in his birthplace and accompanied him back to Melbourne, where he spent a month in quarantine at the Zoo’s veterinary facility before moving on to the Gorilla Rainforest, where he was gradually introduced to the females in the group.

Those introductions began in the night dens, so it was October 9th before Otana first experienced the leafy outdoor exhibit, and at first he was reluctant to venture far from the security of the den door.

Damian explains that the gorilla introduction process was slow but sure, ensuring that Otana would be on good terms with all four females: Yuska, G-Ann, Julia, and the recently-arrived Kimya, born at Taronga Zoo.

Many Victorians already have the perfect birthday gift for Otana sitting unloved in a desk or kitchen drawer: an old mobile phone.

Donating an old phone to the Zoo’s They’re Calling on You mobile phone recycling campaign directly assists wild gorillas in Africa. The program also reduces demand for coltan, a mineral being illegally mined in gorilla habitat, further threatening this already endangered species.

Donors wishing to give Otana a great gift for his 13th birthday can drop off the old phones they’re no longer using at the Zoo or print a postage-free mailing label from the website.

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