There is something special happening at the Dallas Zoo. And zoo keeper Tara Schilke has the best seat in the house.
“I am so lucky,” said Schilke, who works with the primates at the Dallas Zoo. “It’s like the best thing ever.”
For the first time in half a century, there are two baby gorillas in the care of the staff at the Dallas Zoo. Saambili, who is nearly 11 months old, was the first baby gorilla born at the Dallas Zoo in 21 years. And then Saambili’s half-brother, Mbani, was born in March of this year.
“Not every zoo has this, so to be able to have two youngsters together is pretty unique, and to have that in the DFW area is very exciting for us,” said Keith Zdrojewski, Curator of Primates and Carnivores at the Dallas Zoo.
Tara Schilke and her team of zoologists and professionals arrive at the zoo before sunrise every morning to get the gorillas up, checked out and fed long before the gates at the Dallas Zoo open to visitors.
The team prepares a specialized vegetarian diet for each of the Western lowland gorillas in their care, complete with birth control for the adult females.
The baby gorillas are primarily cared for by their own mothers, according to the zoo staff. Hope, the mother of Saambili, has apparently been a good teacher for Megan, the mother of Mbani. And the staff is excited for the two baby gorillas that they will have the opportunity to grow up and develop together.
“I think for me it is hard to put into words what I appreciate about them,” Schilke said, fighting back tears. “I don’t know how you could look at them and not just be in awe. They are amazing.”
Visitors wanting to get the best view of the babies are encouraged to arrive early in the day – that is when the family troop of gorillas tends to hang out by the observation windows in their one-acre habitat.
The Western lowland gorillas are critically endangered in the wild; it is estimated there are fewer than 400,000 left in the world.
The Dallas Zoo has an electronics recycling program that is designed to help save the gorillas’ natural habitat. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is home to many of the remaining wild gorillas, and it is also the primary source of coltan for the world. Coltan is used in the development of cellphones, tablets and other small electronics, and the mining of coltan has been responsible for an increased loss of habitat.
Visitors who want to help protect the gorillas are encouraged to recycle their old electronic devices, specifically cellphones, tablets, iPods, mp3 players and handheld video games, at the drop box at the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center.