Retired Gorilla Keeper Auctions Art for Apes

| November 29, 2011 | 0 Comments

Richard Johnstone Scott, our recently retired Head of Mammals at Durrell Wildlife Park, can lay claim to being one of the most experienced gorilla keepers in the world. With a career that spans half a century, Richard has worked closely with over 50 gorillas, many of whom he considers to be his closest friends.

Richard has now hung up his zoo keeping boots for the last time but both the welfare of Jersey’s gorillas and the threats that the species as a whole faces in the wild is never far from his mind. A keen artist, Richard has often been inspired by the animals he knows and loves and has kindly combined his passion for gorilla conservation with his artistic talents and produced a beautiful pencil and charcoal drawing called “Silverbacks of Durrell, Past and Present”.

The piece portrays the majestic forms of each silverback he has had the privilege of working with during his time at Durrell. He has donated the drawing to raise money towards ape conservation efforts via the EAZA Ape Campaign ( to which Durrell is an active supporter. The beautifully mounted and framed piece links Durrell’s past success and promising future in gorilla breeding and will be auctioned on line throughout the month of November on Durrell’s eBay site. If you are interested in placing a bid please visit Durrell on Facebook or search Durrell Gorilla on ebay

The online auction will end at 9.30pm on the evening of the 29th of November which coincides with a “one off” presentation Richard will be giving on his “Life with Gorillas” at the Princess Royal Pavilion in the grounds of Durrell Wildlife Park. Richard will be showing a compilation of film he has collated which spans the reign of all 3 Durrell silverbacks; Jambo, Ya Kwanza and Badongo as well as footage of gorillas both in the wild and at other animal collections. The event will run from 7pm until around 10pm with a complimentary glass of wine and buffet included in the £10 ticket price. If you are interested in attending you can purchase tickets online at Alternatively you can pick up a ticket at the Durrell visitor centre or on the evening of the event (subject to availability).

Additional background information on Richards Career

In 1965 Richard began his zoo keeping career in Jersey before moving to Kent where he spent nearly 11 years working mainly with gorillas and other species at Howletts Wild Animal Park. In 1979 the opportunity arose for Richard to return to Jersey to care for the charismatic silverback Jambo who in 1981 was relocated to a spacious new enclosure with his 2 female companions, Nandi and N’pongo, and three of their six hand-reared offspring. Jambo, born in 1961 in Basle Zoo, Switzerland, became famous in the zoo community for being the first male gorilla to be born in captivity, the third overall, and also the first gorilla to be mother-reared.

Jambo, having already sired one offspring prior to his arrival at the Trust, fathered 14 live offspring from 19 pregnancies from three different females during his tenure in Jersey. To-date his legacy is second to none with 64 grand offspring, 26 great grand offspring, and 1 great, great grand offspring, and his line continues to grow, an impressive record to say the least. Unbeknown to him however, perhaps his greatest achievement was his marked contribution to helping dispel some widely held beliefs regarding the true nature of this beguiling species. In 1986, Jambo stood guard over the unconscious 5 year old Levan Merrit who had fallen 4 meters down from the perimeter wall into the gorilla enclosure much to the shock of the on looking visitors who clearly feared the worst. The sight of Jambo bending over, and gently touching the child came across as such a powerful image that it will surely endure for all time. The story went global and confirmed in the public eye that gorillas were gentle giants as opposed to the savage beasts portrayed in Victorian tales of African adventure. The genuine ‘fellow creature concern’ displayed by Jambo on that day was a huge step away from ‘King Kong’!.

In 1993, following the tragic demise of the mighty Jambo who had succumbed to a heart condition the previous September, Richard was there to arrange, and supervise the import of a new male from Melbourne Zoo, Australia namely Ya Kwanza, which means “The First” in Swahili. An appropriate name given that he was the first gorilla born in Australia, and also the first to be conceived by Artificial Insemination. It was with great excitement and expectancy that Richard and the other keepers introduced Ya Kwanza to the resident Jersey females. Unfortunately Ya Kwanza took a while to assert his dominance in the group which made for a tumultuous few years, which subsequently resulted in the necessary export of two females not to his liking, Julia and G-AnN. Although rejected by Ya Kwanza, both went on to breed once relocated to Melbourne Zoo!

However, Hlala Kahili, one of Jambo’s daughters, had formed an immediate close bond with Ya Kwanza, and successfully reared two of his offspring, the first of which, Mapema, went on to become a successful silverback in his own right. Sadly, Ya Pili, their second born, died suddenly at the age of 4 which had a devastating effect on the group, and since her death in 2007 hopes of further breeding gradually faded. Ya Kwanza who reigned in Jersey for 18 years, simply lost interest in his females, and in turn they began to distance themselves from him.

Despite the fact that over several years every effort was made to reverse this decline in breeding none were successful. Eventually, a conscious decision was made in 2010 to investigate the potential for a replacement male, and this in turn was sanctioned by the Gorilla EEP Committee. The outcome was the suitable relocation of Ya Kwanza to La Vallee de Singes in France, where he has since been successfully integrated into a bachelor group comprising of four younger males.

In exchange, Durrell received their 3rd silverback; a 12 year old male named Badongo who it is envisaged will contribute to the Trust’s historic success in gorilla breeding. The introduction of Badongo, who was parent reared in a large family group is expected to have a cohesive effect on the Jersey females using lessons learnt from his own father, Yaounde.

Badongo arrived at Durrell in late July, and has already made a very positive start, mating with the ever popular Hlala Kahili while showing admirable restraint whilst asserting his dominance over the other females.


Category: Community, Nature

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