25 November 2022
A western lowland gorilla named Kiburi made his debut at London Zoo after global logistics experts DHL Express flew the whopping 193kg silverback to London as part of an international breeding programme for the Critically Endangered species.
The 5ft 4ft tall gentle giant has arrived to lead the conservation zoo’s current troop, females Mjukuu and Effie, and youngsters Alika and Gernot, in the family’s Gorilla Kingdom home – with high hopes the match-making effort will lead to a further increase to the gorilla population.
18-year-old Kiburi, who travelled from Zoo Loro Parque in Tenerife, was given the VIP treatment by DHL for the 1,903-mile door-to-door journey – travelling in a custom-built crate supported by a dedicated team of zookeepers, aircraft engineers, cargo handlers, security teams, pilots and drivers.
“Kiburi enjoyed an in-flight meal of nutritious leafy greens, snacked on leeks and a banana and had a refreshing drink of cold fruit tea during his first-class trip,” explained gorilla keeper Glynn Hennessy.
“After spending his first few days at London Zoo settling into his new digs behind-the-scenes, Kiburi today ventured into the troop’s indoor play-gym for the first time, where he enjoyed a breakfast of juicy red peppers and tested out the area’s new rope swings – a housewarming gift from the ZSL team.”
Arriving in London late on Friday 18 November, the silverback slept over at Heathrow Airport before arriving at the Zoo at 8am the following morning; a team of vets and zookeepers at London Zoo were on hand to receive the special delivery, and after giving Kiburi a check-up, introduced him to his new Gorilla Kingdom home.
The exciting move was four years in the making. Following the sad passing of London Zoo’s male Kumbuka in 2018, London Zoo began the search for the perfect male to take his place, working with the European Endangered Species Breeding Programme (EEP) co-ordinator for western lowland gorillas, which holds detailed records on each gorilla in the programme.
“We wanted to find a gorilla to lead the troop in Kumbuka’s stead, which is an important part of a healthy gorilla group’s social structure,” said Glynn.
“We were excited when they suggested Kiburi - a playful but authoritative silverback who had just come of age - but we wanted to make sure, so we flew out to meet him last November and spent five days getting to know him and watching how he interacted with other gorillas.
“We found him to be a calm, friendly individual and a great fit for our own gorilla family’s dynamic. He loves a lie-in in the mornings and is more active in the afternoon, which is why we spent the past few weeks installing lots of fun new climbing apparatus for him to enjoy - when he ventures out of bed!”
Kiburi will spend the next few weeks exploring the rest of his new Gorilla Kingdom home - which includes a lush private island, complete with hidden caves, giant jungle gym and a flowing stream – and slowly being introduced to his new troop, in time for their first family Christmas.
“Like any blended family, when getting to know each other it’s important to take thing slowly, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the troop and introducing them to each other face-to-face at a pace that they’re comfortable with.
“We’re so pleased Kiburi has joined us here at London Zoo, and are grateful to DHL for the first class care they gave our oversized package throughout this carefully planned delivery.”
ZSL London Zoo’s Zoological Operations Manager Dan Simmonds, who oversaw the move, added: “Western lowland gorillas are sadly declining in the wilds of central and western Africa and face threats from poaching, disease, deforestation and climate change.
“ZSL is working to protect the species at London Zoo by taking part in this vital global breeding programme, while investigating wildlife diseases at ZSL’s world-leading Institute of Zoology, working with partners in the field to strengthen wildlife protection and surveillance, and empowering local communities to combat wildlife crime.
“In time we hope to hear the pitter patter of tiny gorilla feet once again in Gorilla Kingdom – adding to the dwindling population numbers of this Critically Endangered species.”
Roy Hughes, EVP Network Operations & Aviation Europe at DHL Express said: “Helping Kiburi move to London has been a huge privilege. The logistics effort behind transporting him was no mean feat but our team of experts, working closely with ZSL London Zoo and Loro Parque, went to every length to ensure his journey was safe and comfortable. Everyone at DHL is very invested in this conservation move, and we look forward to seeing Kiburi enjoying his new Gorilla Kingdom home.”