Sedgwick County Zoo’s first female gorilla settles in with new family, hopeful mate

Kivu might look like a baby compared with the other gorillas you’ll see at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

But she’s not. She’s 35 years old, in fact.

The western lowland gorilla wears her 150 pounds well — especially next to 350-pound Matt, with whom the zoo hopes she’ll breed. Matt, a beefy silverback, is 20.

Kivu is a new addition to the zoo, approved to come to Wichita as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s Species Survival Plan. She is the zoo’s seventh gorilla and its first female. Three male gorillas, Jabir, Samson and Virgil, left the zoo earlier this year to make room for Kivu and a second female expected to arrive this fall.

Kivu came to Wichita from Philadelphia in May. She went on exhibit in the Downing Gorilla Forest Reserve building earlier this month and ventured outside to see the public this week. Many visitors have mistaken her for a young gorilla.

Kivu and Matt live together as a family group. Kigali, who is still a teenager, will join the two this fall from the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

“In the wild, there is one male for many females,” explained Danielle Decker, senior zookeeper for the Downing Gorilla Forest.

Matt’s response to Kivu has been typical for the gorilla world: He’s thumped his chest.

“He was the chosen one for this family,” Decker said. “He’s being a great silverback. This is Matt’s first adult experience with a female. They seem to be responding well to each other and spending more time together.”

Kivu is on birth control for now and will be until Kigali arrives.

The zoo’s gorillas live in four families. One gorilla, Zuza, lives by himself. Kivu has met all of the zoo’s gorillas, which also include Barney, Billy, Shango and Tommy.

The Species Survival Plan helps ensure that future generations will get to see animals from the Arabian oryx to the Grevy’s zebra — if not in the wild, at least at a zoo. Committee members make recommendations about where animals should move and when — and with whom — they should breed.

Wichita resident Donna Caywood has enjoyed watching Kivu every day this week. She walks at the zoo for exercise and said it’s been fun seeing Kivu become more acclimated.

“That first day he was jumping around pounding his chest,” Caywood said of Matt.

On Thursday, Kivu sat inside the gorilla building near the glass, watching Matt from time to time. They went outside later, and a keeper threw frozen watermelon and other treats down to them from the roof. Matt grabbed the fruit and hulked away.

Matt seemed more comfortable with human attention.

“She’s still getting to know us, and we’re still getting to know her,” Decker said.

Earlier this week, Caywood watched Matt chasing Kivu around and then witnessed Kivu turn the tables on him.

“One day she started chasing him,” she said.

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