Utah's Hogle Zoo announces this year's new arrivals

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SALT LAKE CITY — From rescued cougar cubs to a baby gorilla expected to arrive this summer, there are exciting things happening at Utah's Hogle Zoo.

On Friday, the zoo announced that Pele, a Western lowland gorilla, is expecting. She's about six months along and due in June or July. Pele was paired with Hogle Zoo resident Husani, a 32-year-old silverback.

The two gorillas are part of a breeding program called the Gorilla Species Survival Plan. The program was designed to provide a healthy, genetically diverse gorilla population.

"Gorillas, in particular, are critically endangered, so by participating in (the species survival plan) and having babies here at the zoo, we're able to contribute to a population that's dwindling in the wild," said Hannah Comstock, the animal care supervisor of primates for Utah's Hogle Zoo.

The zoo staff said Pele and the baby are doing well. They showed one of her recent ultrasounds online, where you can see the baby gorilla's feet.

Comstock said the ultrasound is a major milestone in Pele's pregnancy because she's become comfortable with the staff, allowing them to use the machine to look at her belly and see the baby.

New rescued cougars arrive

In addition to Pele's exciting news, the zoo has also introduced three new rescued cougars.

"It's our first trio in years, and it's our first wild cougar from Utah," said Bob Cisneros, associate director of animal care at Hogle Zoo.

Rafael, the native Utah cougar, arrived at the zoo in January from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

"A mountain lion in a neighbor county was shot and killed by a rancher, and neighbors found the cub," Cisneros said.

Liam and Mara, sibling cougars, came from Nebraska. Their mother was shot and killed by a permitted hunter, leaving the two orphaned and unable to survive on their own.

"When you look at them, you'll definitely see some differences. The two mountain lions that we have from Nebraska were left out in the snow for a moment, and so they suffered frostbite to the ears as well as frostbite to the tail," said Cisneros.

In a few weeks, the cougars will move into their new home in the Wild Utah habitat, which will open to the public in May. While in the habitat, the cougars will become wildlife ambassadors and will be used to teach about wildlife conservation.

"We get to use them as ambassadors and provide that connection to wildlife that is so strong when it's in your own backyard," Cisneros said.

The last time Utah's Hogle Zoo had cougars was in 2012 when cougars Kota and Echo were in residency. The pair came to the zoo in 2006 and later moved to St. Louis.

"What I love about these cats, mostly, is that we're not talking about lions. We're not talking about snow leopards. We're not talking about animals thousands of miles away, but we're really talking about our predators in our own backyard," Cisneros said.

Cisneros said the trio of cougars are still considered cubs because they're under 2 years old. He said they each weigh about 90 pounds but will grow to about 110 to 125 pounds.

According to the zoo, visitors will find them most active during the evenings and early morning hours.

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