TORONTO — Charles the gorilla eyed a bank of cameras for a minute Wednesday morning before languidly reaching for a piece of fruit, unwittingly selecting his 2 1/2-month-old son’s name.
Nassir, that’s his baby.
The Toronto Zoo decided to give the proud papa a hand in choosing the name of their newest western lowland gorilla, born Sept. 2.
More than 5,000 name suggestions were submitted by members of the public. The only stipulation was the names had to start with the letter N, to honour the baby’s mother Ngozi.
Zoo staff and a group of children whittled the mass of names down to the top 10, which were then voted on online. The five most popular were displayed Wednesday in the gorilla habitat, with a pile of fruit beneath each.
As he entered the habitat Charles circled the perimeter once, then took a seat next to the Nassir sign. He stared at the gathered members of the public and media, apparently weighing his options for a little while, before eating some fruit.
Alice Mah and her two-year-old daughter April had originally submitted the name Nassir, so Charles’ selection was particularly special for them.
“We were so excited and we were taking video footage,” Mah said. “April was going, ’Oh, go get the Nassir apples!”’
They chose the name because of its Arabic meaning.
“We looked at African boy names and we were looking at the meanings of the names and we found that Nassir meant safe or to protect, so we thought that was an appropriate name for this little baby gorilla,” Mah said.
After Charles made his pick, zoo staff let Nassir’s mother and her newly named baby into the habitat, along with several other western lowland gorillas who made short work of the rest of the fruit.
Ngozi wandered the habitat with little Nassir clinging to her belly as curious onlookers oohed and aahed, trying to catch a glimpse of the tiny bundle.
The other name options for Nassir were Neo, Nico, Nigel and Nsambu. Fittingly, Nassir was also the last sign standing after the gathered gorillas knocked down the others while attempting to get the food and later while playing with toys.
Nassir’s birth was exciting for staff because the western lowland gorilla is designated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as critically endangered — one step away from being listed as extinct in the wild.
The listing, which includes the western lowland gorilla and Cross River gorilla subspecies, is based on “exceptionally high levels of hunting and disease-induced mortality,” according to the organization’s threat assessment.
Commercial hunting and the Ebola virus are estimated to have caused the subspecies’ abundance to decline by more than 60 per cent over the last 20 to 25 years.