Three "swinging" bachelors are headed to the Bayou City, ready to make the Houston Zoo their new home.
Chaka, age 30, 23-year-old Mike and 14-year-old Ajari are the first of seven western lowland gorillas coming to Houston to live in the zoo's new gorilla habitat, "Gorillas of the African Forest," set to open Memorial Day weekend. The trio of guys are expected to arrive this week.
Chaka and Mike have lived at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, S.C., since July 2004 when the pair moved there from the Philadelphia Zoo in Pennsylvania. Ajari joined them in January 2013 from Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee.
Mike has a cardiac condition that will require attention throughout his trip and upon arrival. The Houston Zoo and Riverbanks Zoo and Garden have worked closely to create a travel and health monitoring plan to ensure all three gorillas will arrive safely in Houston. The group is also working with the Great Ape Heart Project based at Zoo Atlanta to develop a long-term medical plan that may include medication and possibly an implanted monitoring device.
Mike has a cardiac condition that will require attention throughout his trip and upon arrival.
The bachelors will alternate spaces at the Houston Zoo with a family troop of three gorillas set to arrive in March from Louisville and a single female from Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.
Zuri (31), Holli (25) and their daughter Sufi (13) will be coming to Houston from the Bronx Zoo. Binti (40) from Audubon Zoo has been chosen to join all as part of the Species Survival Plan, a cooperation between Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) accredited zoos and aquariums "to properly manage specific and typically threatened or endangered, species population."
The gorillas will live in the zoo's new habitat, spending their days in an outdoor area filled with lush landscape that mimics an African forest, sleeping in a multi-tiered night house that includes private bedrooms, climbing an artistic 23-foot-tall tree and just hanging out in a behind-the-scenes outdoor yard. Zoo visitors will be able to see the gorillas in many different areas: From an arrival building with floor-to-ceiling windows looking the dry river bed to an open boardwalk alongside the gorillas' naturalistic forest.
The endangered western lowland gorilla faces many threats, as their native habitat in central and west Africa is shrinking largely due to the expansion of mining and agriculture in the area. As well, the already dwindling population faces the added threat from illegal hunting. As one of man’s closest relatives in the animal kingdom, their highly social nature and intelligence make them prime ambassadors to educate the community about the threats faced by all gorillas and the conservation work currently undertaken by the Houston Zoo.
The Houston Zoo recently commissioned five well-known Houston artists/muralists who are taking to the streets to cover walls with their individual inspirations of the seven western lowland gorillas to celebrate their arrival. The gigantic pieces will remain up for at least of six months as a collaborative project among the zoo, artists and business owners.
Anat Ronen is putting the final touches her painting on the wall of Richards Antiques at 3701 Main St., as is Mr. D at 2119 Washington Ave. Next to follow with their interpretations of the wild are Nicky Davis, Michael C. Rodriguez and GONZO247 of Aerosol Warfare, who just recently began his street art creation at the Downtown Food Park, 1311 Leland St.
Art lovers and animal enthusiasts are encouraged to follow along as the murals take shape.