Gorilla pair still aren't ape over each other after five years

Monday, March 29, 2004

PHILADELPHIA -- Five years have passed without the pitter-patter of baby gorilla feet, and zookeepers have decided that Demba and Chaka just aren't working out.

Introduced to each other five years ago at the Philadelphia Zoo amid high reproductive hopes, it's not even clear the two ever mated. That's a big change for Chaka, who was once named "best stud muffin" after fathering eight little ones at Cincinnati's zoo.

"Things have not gone that way," said Andy Baker, the Philadelphia Zoo's senior vice president for animal programs.

In May, Chaka, a 380-pound silverback, will travel to Columbia, S.C., to the Riverbanks Zoo's "Gorilla Base Camp." Mike and Kimya, Philadelphia's two other male gorillas, will go with him. Demba gets to keep their Philadelphia home, and will be joined by a troupe from the St. Louis Zoo: a toddler, his parents and another female.

Demba and Chaka were supposed to breed and start a new dynasty of apes. Gorilla handlers were particularly hoping that Demba, whose parents were wild-born, would mate to introduce her genes into the captive population's gene pool.

But Demba may have been, biologically speaking, damaged goods from early gorilla-hood. She was raised by humans and didn't meet another of her own species for years. Even then, she never seemed quite comfortable with her own kind. But keepers figured that with Chaka's past success, passion might have taken hold.

Now at age 33, Demba's biological clock "has pretty well ticked its last tick," said Dan Wharton, the nation's gorilla coordinator and director of the Central Park Zoo.

The two females that Chaka will be living with are younger, and one is known to be fertile.

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