Knoxville Zoo puts new gorilla on display Monday, hopes to breed

Knoxville Zoo's new gorilla goes on display; zoo officials hope to breed him with females

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Wanto underwent a comprehensive physical exam Monday. Wanto underwent a comprehensive physical exam Monday.
Bantu is one of the gorillas on display at Gorilla Valley. Bantu is one of the gorillas on display at Gorilla Valley.
"We're really excited about the possibility of having this family," said Tangara Cross, curator of animal health for the Knoxville Zoo. "We're really excited about the possibility of having this family," said Tangara Cross, curator of animal health for the Knoxville Zoo.

By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - It was a big day at the Knoxville Zoo Monday, as the park's brand new gorilla was finally ready for his close up.

Wanto the gorilla arrived in Knoxville less than one month ago and was moved Monday into the Zoo's Gorilla Valley.

Before he was moved to his new home, though, he had to undergo a gorilla-sized checkup to make sure he was healthy enough to be put on display for the public.

Wanto was given a comprehensive physical exam Monday morning by a team of veterinarians.

"I think everybody will enjoy having a new gorilla here at the zoo," said Dr. Rebecca Gompf of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, one of the veterinarians who performed Wanto's exam. "We're doing the last test before he gets to go out for the public to see him."

The 36-year-old, 397 pound silverback gorilla has been in quarantine at the zoo's clinic since he arrived there four weeks ago.

He was put under anesthesia Monday for the exam.

"We listened to his heart. We listened to his lungs, as well as his blood pressure which is really important," said Dr. Gompf.

They spent a lot of time looking at his heart, as cardiac disease is common in male silverbacks.

The doctors were also evaluating whether or not Wanto is healthy enough to be introduced to the two female gorillas who have also just arrived at the zoo.

If he breeds with them, they will be the first ever family group at the Knoxville Zoo.

The plan is for female gorillas Hope and Machi to be Wanto's companions, eventually producing his first-ever offspring.

"We want to make sure his heart can stand the excitement," said Dr. Gompf.

The zoo is hopeful Wanto could breed with them as early as August, which would be a big first for Knoxville.

"We never thought this day would be possible. We've always been a holding institution for males who are waiting to go off to a family group and now we actually have an opportunity to have one, so we're very excited," said Amy Flew, mammal curator for the Knoxville Zoo.

The diagnosis looks good. Wanto's doctors say he is in great shape for his age.

"We're really excited about the possibility of having this family right now and this family being introduced and possibly growing at our institution and watching how these guys interact together and how they start their own family," said Tangara Cross, curator of animal health for the Knoxville Zoo.

Once he's put on display, Wanto will be slowly introduced to the two females in phases.

Doctors say Wanto has slight thickening on the left side of his heart, but that it's not a big concern to them. He also has high blood pressure and will be put on medication for that.

He will be receiving an annual physical exam to keep him healthy.

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