New at the N.C. Zoo: This charming 5-year-old from Colorado

Dembe performs a somersault for adoring patrons

The NC Zoo soon will have a new resident: Dembe, a 5-year-old lowland gorilla. Here he is entertaining the crowd at Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
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The NC Zoo soon will have a new resident: Dembe, a 5-year-old lowland gorilla. Here he is entertaining the crowd at Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

The N.C. Zoo soon will have a new resident – Dembe, a 5-year-old lowland gorilla who will arrive from a zoo in Colorado.

Dembe, pronounced DEM-bey, was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Aug. 14, 2012 — the same year and month as both Bomassa and Apollo, two of the N.C. Zoo’s current resident male gorillas.

Zoo spokesman Lane Ragsdale said considerable planning went into smoothing the transition for Dembe to come to the N.C. Zoo. Willie Campbell, one of the zoo’s gorilla care specialists, traveled to Colorado earlier this week and will accompany Dembe on the flight to North Carolina.

“It is always so exciting to welcome a new animal to our natural habitat park. I am honored to have been chosen for this task,” Campbell said. He will spend a couple of days working with Cheyenne Mountain Zoo gorilla care specialists and getting to know Dembe.

Dembe’s traveling entourage also will include Dina Bredahl, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s gorilla specialist. Bredahl will spend a few days in Asheboro helping Dembe settle in.

The Species Survival Plan, which oversees the placement of endangered animals in member zoos, recommended the N.C. Zoo for Dembe because of the park’s successful introduction of a new silverback, 34-year-old Mosuba, to Apollo and Bomassa when they were not quite 3 years old. Mosuba’s calm, laid-back demeanor makes him an excellent match for Dembe, Ragsdale said.

The Species Survival Plan also felt Dembe would get along well with Rosie, a 43-year-old female gorilla in the N.C. Zoo’s troop. Rosie has a history of nurturing youngsters who are not her offspring. Rosie became an excellent female role model to Hadari, another young gorilla in the zoo’s troop who is now 8 years old.

When Dembe arrives at the N.C. Zoo’s veterinary hospital, Rosie will be waiting to welcome him in a quarantine area, Ragsdale said. Animal experts feel it is in Dembe’s best interest to have a companion while he goes through the required 30-day quarantine period. Having a bond with Rosie will help him when he moves to the gorilla habitat and begins his introduction into the larger troop.

Gorilla care specialists expect Rosie and Dembe to leave quarantine in late October. There will then be a period of introductions – to his new habitat and to the other gorillas – before Dembe can be seen by zoo guests later this fall.

The zoo enjoyed its second-highest attendance in the fiscal year that ended June 30, with 870,882 visitors coming through the gates, second only to the year the park opened its North America section. The zoo, which houses more than 1,600 animals, is situated outside Asheboro in Randolph County, about an hour from Raleigh.

Martha Quillin: 919-829-8989, @MarthaQuillin