Willie B. Tribute Gallery

1959-2000

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Willie B. my Gorilla relative...

I still remember meeting Willie B. for the first time. It was 1982 I was about 7 years old and my parents took me and my younger brother to the Atlanta Zoo one spring day. We toured much of the zoo that day seeing Giraffes and Tigers typical zoo animals. when we entered the primate house however things changed. There was this certain gorilla there he was just like me, playfully swinging in his tire swing and throwing around a big ball. Mostly he watched television and I thought that was really cool. All the other animals were grazing in the fields or milling about but this fellow watched cartoons the same ones I liked! Although back in those days the primate house was a very loud place to be the chimpanzees were screaming and the orangutans bellowed, I managed to tune it all out and watch Willie B. I recall pushing my way up to the bar that separated his cage from the public and upon reaching the front he slowly turned and observed me. His deep brown eyes sized me up and as I looked into his eyes it was like looking at a distant relative, he was so sensitive and calm. You could almost sense the intelligence in there, that really moved me and I remember thinking that this guy was probably not much different than me.

The next visit I made with Willie B. was a school field trip in middle school in 1989 right after the Ford African Rain Forest was opened that time I could not get as close to Willie b. but it was much better because I could see him amongst a family and how he might behave in the wild, I also rejoiced because he was not so institutionalized but roaming free, pounding his chest and playing with other gorillas. He seemed to also be more at ease and assuming a dominating position gave him some pride I'm sure, however I remember thinking I wanted to sneak him in some bootleg cartoons.

The last time I saw Willie B. was when the photographs above were taken It was 1994, He was graying and getting his esteemed silverback coloring. He was a massive example of a gorilla alpha male. This was also the time I had another haunting moment were we met eyes and I was again reminded that these creatures are thinking and processing constantly. They have emotions and are alive physically and spiritually. I observed the gorillas for well over an hour and photographed them. Willie b at one point was sitting back reclined, I got a few shots and he looked over as if to say "how may I help you?" . I hung around long enough for the feeding to occur and saw what was to me at least the mark of a true language among the apes. The keepers threw the food down into the enclosure and as usual the gorillas all scrambled for it but then Willie B. stood up with his new baby Kudzoo. It was like the jukebox skipped in a fight scene in some cheesy action film, they ceased to move. Baby kudzoo hopped off his daddy's back crawled up to a little bit of fruit sat down and ate all he wanted for almost 10 minutes. When Willie B. was satisfied that he was well nourished he scooped up his son and the chaos resumed. That really moved me I was impressed to the core by that and to this day regret not having gone to visit Willie b. before his passing. I will always have the memory of that once silly gorilla who played like me, that grew up like me and went on to become a great leader and father, and made me question who were the intelligent ones after all?

___deadbear____________

 

Willie B. facts from Zoo Atlanta:

  • Willie B. was one of Zoo Atlanta's most beloved and best-known animals. He was a western lowland gorilla who came to the zoo in the spring of 1961, after being wild-caught in Africa by an animal dealer. He was about three years old when he arrived at the zoo and is named after former Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield.
  • Willie quickly stole the hearts of those who came to see him in his large room in the zoo's primate house. In the spring of 1988 the Ford African Rain Forest opened and Willie B. moved into one of the large natural, outdoor habitats. He was soon joined by three gorilla families from the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center of Emory University, who live in large habitats adjacent to Willie's. The Ford African Rain Forest is designed to simulate the rain forests of the gorilla's native Africa with the gorillas living in natural social groups.
  • In the spring of 1989, after preliminary introductions, Willie B. physically interacted with gorillas for the first time. He was successfully socialized and began mating with one of the females in his family. In October of 1992, a new female gorilla, named Choomba, was introduced to Willie's family. In July 1993, pregnancy tests conducted by the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center and Zoo Atlanta indicated that Choomba was pregnant with Willie B.'s first offspring. The baby girl was born Feb. 8, 1994 and was named Kudzoo. Yerkes gorilla Mia Moja gave birth to Willie B.'s second baby girl, Olympia, on June 22,1996.
  • Willie B. became a father for the third time as 22-year-old Machi gave birth to the big silverback's first male offspring, Kidogo (which means Junior), on April 8, 1998. Choomba, now 35 years old, gave birth to Willie's fourth offspring on May 12, 1998. Her name is Sukari, which means "sugar" in Swahili. Lulu, Willie B.'s fifth offspring, was born to Kuchi on August 22, 1999. Willie B.'s genes, until now unrepresented in the captive gorilla populations, can help perpetuate this endangered species.
  • Willie B., one of the most beloved and famous animals in the nation, passed away peacefully as he slept last Wednesday afternoon in his home at the Ford African Rain Forest exhibit. He was 41 years old. Willie B. had been off exhibit in the care of the zoo's veterinary staff, consulting physicians and keepers after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition which reduces the ability of the heart to contract strongly enough.
  • At 41, Willie B. was one of the oldest gorillas in captivity and the oldest captive male in the United States to be producing offspring. He fathered five gorilla babies at Zoo Atlanta over the past six years: Kudzoo, Olympia, Sukari, Kidogo, and Lulu. Kidogo (Willie B., Jr.) inherits Willie B.'s role as ambassador for his critically endangered species.
  • Zoo Atlanta has a goal to raise $1 million for its primate conservation programs through the Willie B. Memorial Fund. Contributions should be sent to: The Willie B. Memorial Fund, Zoo Atlanta, P.O. Box 6844, Atlanta, GA 30315. For more information about the Willie B. Memorial Fund the number is 404-624-5839.

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