ATLANTA – May 9, 2023 – It’s a boy! The infant gorilla at Zoo Atlanta has been confirmed to be male, and has been named Willie B., III. The name follows the tradition of his father, Willie B., Jr., and his legendary grandfather, the late Willie B.
Born to Shalia on April 24, 2023, the 2-week-old is the first offspring of Willie B., Jr., and the second for Shalia (Shuh-LAY-uh), who has one previous offspring at another zoological organization. Members and guests can look for the infant in Gorilla Habitat 4 in the Zoo’s Ford African Rain Forest, although sightings are not guaranteed.
“Zoo Atlanta is very proud to have our newest baby gorilla continue a name tradition that is so meaningful and beloved for generations of Atlantans. Few Atlanta institutions are as unique to our city as Willie B.,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “Through the lens of Willie B.’s life, we are able to see the story of Zoo Atlanta’s dramatic evolution. With the arrival of Willie B., III, we have the opportunity to share and celebrate that story, both with those who grew up with it, and with those who have never heard it before.”
Willie B., who arrived in Atlanta in 1961 as a youngster of around 2 years old, was named in honor of then mayor William B. Hartsfield. He spent his first 27 years at the Zoo in an indoor environment, becoming the face of the Zoo’s radical transformation in the 1980s. With the opening of the landmark Ford African Rain Forest in 1988, the moment when Willie B. stepped outdoors for the first time in more than two decades was celebrated with joy throughout Atlanta and beyond. With the introduction of female gorillas, he became a successful troop leader and father, siring five offspring. Willie B., Jr., is his only son. When Willie B. passed away in 2000 at 42, his memorial was attended by more than 5,000 people.
May 13 marks the 35th anniversary of Willie B.’s entry into The Ford African Rain Forest. In celebration of the anniversary year and of the birth of his newest grandchild, Zoo Atlanta plans to host “Willie B. Day” later this summer; stay tuned for event details.
Today, Zoo Atlanta is home to one of North America’s largest populations of western lowland gorillas and has a globally recognized program for the care and behavioral study of the species, which is critically endangered. Willie B., III is the 25th gorilla to be born at the Zoo.
Wild western lowland gorilla populations have plummeted in recent years as a result of habitat loss, poaching, illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade, and emerging diseases. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), over a 25-year period, these combined threats have reduced wild populations by 60 percent, with declines of as much as 90 percent in some parts of their range in western Africa.
The Zoo is home to one of North America’s largest populations of gorillas. Research by Zoo Atlanta team members has influenced the care of gorillas in zoos, as well as enhanced the world’s understanding of gorillas, with more than 100 published papers on maternal care, reproduction, social behavior, and cognition.
Zoo Atlanta supports the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Gorilla SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) Program, which focuses expertise within accredited zoos. For more than 20 years, the Zoo has supported its longtime partner in gorilla conservation, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, by providing pro-bono headquarters space, information technology support, and financial resources. Zoo Atlanta also supports the Goualougo Triangle Ape Project, which works to mitigate threats to western lowland gorillas and other apes in the Congo Basin, through its Mabel Dorn Reeder Conservation Endowment Fund.
Plan a visit or learn more about the gorilla program at Zoo Atlanta at zooatlanta.org.