Melbourne’s favourite gorilla Yakini comes of age

PICTURE SPECIAL: THE baby gorilla who captured our hearts 15 years ago has come of age. And boy, has he grown …

THE baby gorilla who captured our hearts 15 years ago has come of age.

Yakini barely made it through his first few hours, but he’s now the dominant gorilla at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

Yakini, before he was named, gets a check-up from a neonatal specialist

Yakini as a baby gorilla. in 1999../

Newborn Yakini being introduced to zoo visitor Jesse Opuni at Melbourne Zoo.

Melbourne Zoo senior primate keeper Ulli Weiher, who hand-raised Yakini, said he had “grown into a strapping young silverback”.

Teams of doctors from the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Royal Women’s Hospital fought to keep him alive after he was born by caesarean section without a heartbeat.

“It was touch and go there for a while,” Ms Weiher said.

Yakini with keeper Ulli Weiher

Yakini was bottle-fed and Ms Weiher taught him how to act as a gorilla. “It was us crawling around on the floor, teaching him how to climb on his mother’s back,” she said.

Yakini has his teeth brushed by a keeper as part daily checks. Picture: David Caird.

He’s grown into a brawny 170kg beast, though Ms Weiher said he had kept his mother’s gentle, relaxed personality.

Yakini moved to Werribee in 2011 to join father Motaba and brother Ganyeka.

Keeper Kat Thompson said Yakini had recently taken leadership from his father.

Yakini is now head of the pack. Picture: David Caird.

“As Yakini matured, it was natural he would challenge his father for the position as leader of the group,” she said.

“The challenge took place over several months, but it was very subtle — a battle of wills rather than a battle of brawn.”

Yakini enjoys the privileges of his new role, eating first and picking his preferred spots. “It’s a joy to see the hard work paid off,” Ms Weiher said.

Animal lovers can donate their old mobile phones to protect gorillas in the wild. Details:

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