Celebrating the life of Kishka, the western lowland gorilla

Wednesday 29 May 2024

Western Gorilla 2021 02


Kishka, our much-loved western lowland gorilla, passed away on Thursday 16 May 2024.

At 45 years old, Kishka had lived at Jersey Zoo for most of her life. She joined us in 1984 when she was nearly six years old and integrated quickly and confidently with the troop.

A very inquisitive gorilla, Kishka was an expert nest builder and enjoyed her leafy greens. She had strong maternal instincts and often took on the role of supportive ‘aunt’ with young gorillas.

Some of Kishka’s keepers – past and present – have paid tribute to her beautiful and gentle character.


Richard Johnstone-Scott, former Head of Mammals

Gentle by nature, yet magnificent in her prime, Kishka was a much-loved gorilla I knew well.

At approximately 9.40 am on Thursday 9 November 1978, Kishka was born at Howletts Zoo in Kent, where I was the head gorilla keeper. Some years later, following my return to Durrell to manage the Trust’s great apes, I would request a five-year-old Kishka, a stud-book-approved female, as part of a female exchange. She arrived at Jersey Zoo on 24 July 1984. It was a heartwarming reunion! 

Despite her lack of years, Kishka was socially experienced, having been reared in a cohesive group by a dominant female and sired by silverback, the mighty Kisoro. 

With an inherent confidence and strength of character, she quickly adapted to her new surroundings and successfully integrated into the group led by the gentle giant Jambo...with whom the young Kishka was clearly besotted! 

On 14 July 1986, Kishka produced a healthy daughter named Sakina, who she proudly presented to me from her enormous nest of straw early that morning when I entered the outside enclosure to check on her. It was a memorable moment. As I offered her drinks and fruit she grumbled and burbled excitedly through snatched gulps of fruit juice and the frantic munching of grapes. Kishka was clearly pleased with herself and was suddenly the centre of attention, surrounded by the other females and offspring all offering a grumbling curiosity towards the latest arrival. 

Kishka proved to be an exemplary mother and deservedly became much respected in the female hierarchy over time. She particularly enjoyed the company of other infants and juveniles and was ever ready to play the ‘aunt role’, good-naturedly ensuring that their boisterous play interactions were kept in check. 

Kishka, bless her heart, was a truly remarkable gorilla who contributed so much to the well-being of her group companions and to her species. It was a privilege to be accepted into her company. She was a joy to work with and care for and will be greatly missed by both gorillas and staff alike.

Richard Johnstone Scott And Sakina


Mark Beresford, Team Leader (Apes) 

Kishka has been in our Jersey troop as long as I can remember, having grown up visiting the park my whole life. I’ve been lucky to have had the privilege of caring for her over the past decade and in that time Kishka had easily established herself as one of my favourite animals.  

Kishka was a brilliant gorilla to work with and loved a cheeky side eye glance to keep an eye on what you were doing. She had a firm, calming, caring, matriarchal role in our troop and will be hugely missed by all.  

Since her passing, it has been very touching to see all the lovely messages about Kish and all the photos of her over the years. It really shows how much of an impression she has left on our island and our zoo.


Aoife O'Mahony, Mammal Keeper 

Kishka was my favourite soul at the zoo. It never seems enough to say she's my favourite animal.  

Kishka was gentle and kind but had a feisty, stubborn side, always standing up for herself and others even when she possibly shouldn't. She loved to get up in Badongo's face and shout back at him despite being 100kg smaller. She was unbelievably quick and clever; you could have a whole conversation with her without the need for words.  

I'm not sure what we will do with the hole she has left behind. Forty years at the zoo, and none of us, keeper or gorilla, know life in Jersey without Kishka. The empty space where she should be sitting in the sun eating lunch will, I'm sure, hurt for a long time to come. Although breakfast will be quicker now that she isn't purposefully taking an extra 20 minutes to have some peace.  

I will miss her grumpy side eye, her old lady snores, and comedically timed farts. Amari has lost her best friend, although I'm not sure Kishka ever enjoyed the "play" that Amari was so eager to engage her in. I'll miss the funny mornings of watching our little 4-year-old pester her 45-year-old pal, copying Kishka's every move or poking at her bum.  

I'm certain Kishka's legacy will continue in all the youngsters she helped rear in her four decades at the zoo and all the memories she imparted on the many staff who had the privilege of working with her. We miss you, Princess.

Kishka From Keeper Aoife 1


George Pritchard, Mammal Keeper

To try and describe the incredible nature of Kishka is like trying to share a sunset through photographs alone – there's something special that you'll never quite capture fully.  

By the time I appeared in Kishka's world, she was already an older soul but had such a presence. She commanded instant respect from her keepers and gorilla companions. Kishka was a gentle and quiet girl but could switch on a feisty, matriarchal side if Kahilli needed defending or big boy Badongo needed putting in his place.  

Over the last four years, the presence of little Amari has blessed us with many 'play' sessions that demonstrated Kishka's endless patience. Whilst she was repeatedly jumped on or slapped with branches by the Kishka-obsessed Amari, she would just sit there calmly.  

Kishka was also a very smart girl. Picking up on subtle head tilts, she would slink away to the far side of the enclosure and patiently wait for me to reappear with the tastiest or largest of the food items, safely away from the rest of the group so she could eat in peace.  

There are too many stories to tell, but I will always be grateful for the time I spent with Kishka, an incredible gorilla. A wonderful soul I will never forget.

Kishka From Keeper George 4


Tom Price, Mammal Keeper

Kishka arrived at Jersey Zoo to join the original gorilla troop almost 40 years ago this year. Not long after, she bred with our famous silverback, Jambo, giving birth to daughter Sakina – for whom she went on to be the first UK-born gorilla to fully parent rear.  

Since then, Kishka has helped raise countless other gorilla infants and has seen many keepers come and go. Her peaceful and calm nature and famous occasional stubbornness are why she was such a favourite among keepers, volunteers, and gorillas.  

During the periods between Jambo’s passing and the arrival of silverback Ya Kwanza, and again before the current silverback Badongo’s arrival, Kishka instinctively took on the role of matriarch and looked after the other females and juveniles – and continued to regularly put young Badongo in his place until the end.  

As the most recent addition to the ape team, my training was made easier by Kishka’s adaptable and relaxed personality. She helped to make the bond and trust-forming process with the troop as easy as I could hope for (a very important part of our job).  

At the fantastic age of 45 (80-90 in human years), Kishka leaves behind 36-year-old Hlala Kahilli, who was born here in 1988 and has only known life with Kishka, and 4-year-old Amari, whose only aim so far it seems is to be friends with Kishka (she could often be seen pestering and copying Kishka’s actions, which tested her patience at times). I may not have known her the longest, but I feel very lucky and honoured to follow a relatively short list of ape keepers at Jersey Zoo who have had the privilege to know her.  

RIP Kish.