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AWA with Gorillas in Congo #3_edited.jpg


In 1955, a pair of baby gorillas captured from the Congo River Basin boarded a commercial flight from their African homeland bound for Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo. Nikumba and Moka’s flights to America were noisy and long. Passengers doted on them by feeding them infant formula from baby bottles, as they clung to the arms of the man escorting them to America. Arthur “Nick” Arundel traveled to Africa for an adventure safari and to fulfill a promise to his beloved Zoo, to bring back much sought-after gorillas.

That journey was the beginning of dramatic changes for the young gorillas and for the Zoo that would become their forever home. It also marked the transformation for the man who at first celebrated their capture, then later regretted his tale of hunting gorillas. The lives of these first generation wild-caught gorillas’ at the Zoo would influence animal care throughout the world. Arundel, among many others, would fight to make “America’s Zoo” a leader in animal preservation.

Raising America’s Zoo is the story of the National Zoo’s historical shift from a Victorian-era menagerie filled with animals dying from poor care to its current day, internationally-respected center for animal conservation, research and education. The stirring tale is told through the extraordinary lives of Nikumba and Moka, their offspring and the people who cared for them. It intertwines the stories of man, ape and Zoo. For over a half century, they had conflicting relationships that began with brutality and crude confinement and evolved into compassion, security and dignity.

Readers will witness the National Zoo’s journey of limited capacity, ethical conflicts and urgent deadlines to preserve western lowland gorillas — one of Africa’s most vulnerable wild animals. Gorillas move closer to extinction in the wild due to habitat destruction, disease and poaching. Meanwhile debate grows about keeping such large, intelligent apes in zoos.  Yet regrettably, zoos and sanctuaries may become the only place where gorillas survive.

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