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Mwelu (born July 16, 1986 at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Columbus, Ohio) is a male silverback Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) who spent some time on exhibit at the Birmingham Zoo, and is now at the Memphis Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee.

Mwelu is one of three offspring of Birmingham's former gorilla Susie, who mated with a male named Oscar after being transferred to Columbus. She and her companion, Joe, were sent away to allow the zoo's existing Primate House to be demolished and a new Social Animals Exhibit to be constructed.

The infant was brought to Birmingham on March 2, 1987. He was initially kept at the zoo's nursery, in the Children's Zoo area, and was hand-raised by a team of 11-nurses rotating eight-hour shifts.

The then-unnamed baby was the subject of a month-long naming contest sponsored by the Alabama Zoological Association and the Birmingham Coca-Cola Bottling Company (which provided the airplane to bring him here). Cynthia Heck of Birmingham sent in the winning entry, which was inspired by a gorilla that was named Mwelu by naturalist Dian Fossey who featured in her book, Gorillas in the Mist. The Burundi word is translated as "a touch of brightness and light."

Mwelu spent the next six years alternating between Birmingham and the Cincinnati Zoo, with his longest tenure in Birmingham lasting from May 9, 1989 to August 5, 1991. He was moved to the Gulf Breeze Zoo in July 1993, and to the Memphis Zoo in November 2007.

Mwelu was originally Memphis' lone gorilla, but was joined by two females, a mother and daughter from the San Diego Zoo, in 2008. Mwelu was more interested, however, in television personality Rachael Ray, whose show he was allowed to watch when he was off exhibit. Ray visited the Memphis Zoo to tape a segment about Mwelu in July 2008. In December 2009 another female, Kwizera, considered a potential mate for Mwelu, was brought to Memphis from the Buffalo Zoo in New York.


External links

  • Mwelu at