Bikira (right) with a zookeeper after arriving in Prague in 2010
Bikira, a 17-year-old female Western lowland gorilla whose name means “virgin” in Swahili, has been voted the biggest personality of all the creatures now roaming about in zoos across the Czech Republic.
The Prague Zoo resident — despite having rejected her newborn son, and only child, in November — bested the baby elephant girl Rashmi from Ostrava and the Kamchatkan brown bears Kamčatka and Jelizar from Brno (proud parents as of January) by a narrow margin in a nationwide contest.
Bikira may have gotten a leg up from the — pun intended —guerilla marketing campaign Prague Zoo launched in 2005 capitalizing on the popularity of reality shows, when it launched its own show called “Odhalení,” or the Unmasking, featuring the Western lowland gorillas.
Prague Zoo used profits from text messages sent by viewers asked to vote for their favorite primate for various projects to protect gorillas in the wild. Even so, Bikira was not a sure bet in the popularity contest — she was not even the only “gorilla in the mist,” so to speak (two others made round one of the contest.)
The first of two rounds of voting began two weeks ago. Of the 44 contestants, 12 made the final round. Despite Bikira’s lack of parenting skills, she took top honors with 36 percent of the vote.
The “potato,” as the Czechs call fourth prize, went to the elephant Delhi from Ústí nad Labem zoo and fifth place went to another gorilla, Tadao, of Dvůr Králové zoo.
Gorilla gorilla gorilla
Western lowland gorillas like Bikira — or Gorilla gorilla gorilla, by genus, species and subspecies — originate from the forests of Central Africa and are the most commonly found in zoos.
This type of gorilla usually only have one baby every five years or so. Prague Zoo had to transfer Bikira’s newborn baby male gorilla to a special center abroad in November 2011 after she twice rejected him.
Bikira was raised in captivity, having been born at Amsterdam zoo in 1995. After stays in Stuttgart and Belfast, she arrived in Prague in 2010.