Shabani (gorilla)

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Western Lowland Gorilla2010501A.jpg
Born20 October 1996
Apenheul Primate Park, Apeldoorn, Netherlands.
Known for"Ikemen Gorilla"
The most handsome gorilla
Tightrope walking.
ResidenceHigashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Nagoya, Japan
Parent(s)Kibabu (father)
Mouila (mother)
OffspringKiyomasa (male)
Annie (female)
Weight190 kg (418 lb)
Height180 cm (5 ft 11 in)

Shabani (Japanese: シャバーニ, romanizedShabāni) is a male western lowland gorilla, who was born at the Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands, raised in Australia, and currently resides at the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya, Japan.[1] He gained publicity in 2007 at Higashiyama Zoo when he was 10 years old by tightrope walking.[2]

He gained added fame in 2015, due to being considered 'handsome', 'sexy', 'photogenic',[3] and 'metrosexual'.[4] This led to coverage in news,[5][6][7][8] and his being featured on the season 2 premiere of the TV series Not Safe with Nikki Glaser.

His residence caused a notable increase in younger female attendance at his zoo.[9][10] There is a DVD film dedicated to him[11] and he became the mascot for a candy line.[12]

He was also used in a worker recruitment campaign by the city of Nagoya in January 2016.[13][14]

Birth and Early Life[edit]

Shabani is a male western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) born on 20 October 1996 at Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands. His mother is Mouila, and his father is Kibabu. Mouila was born in Cameroon to wild parents. Her birth date is recorded as 1972[15] although her capture date is unknown she arrived at Apenheul on November 22, 1974. Kibabu was born at Howletts Wild Animal Park on 25 May 1977. Kibabu's parents were Baby Doll and Kisoro. Kibabu was transferred from Howletts to Apenheul on 5 August 1987. Shabani was transferred to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia along with the rest of his family on 6 December 1996. Shabani was 2 months old when he was moved to Australia. Shabani has 4 other full siblings.

Kibabu was quite prolific, fathering 18 children in total.[16]

Transfer to Higashiyama Zoo & Botanical Gardens[edit]

On June 27, 2007 Shabani and his brother Haoko were transferred to Japan as part of a coordinated breeding programme to ensure genetic diversity.[17] While Shabani was transferred to Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya, Japan. Haoko was sent to Ueno Zoological Gardens in Tokyo, Japan. Shabani was almost 11 years old and was still considered a “blackback”. Blackbacks are aged between 8 and 12 years and lack the silver back hair.[18]

Shabani's Troop[edit]

Higashiyama Zoo had three adult female gorillas with no male gorilla. The previous silverback, Rikki, had died in 2003. The female gorillas at Higashiyama Zoo were:

  • Oki (born ~ 1956 in the wild –died on December 30, 2010) Oki was around 53 years old when Shabani arrived and died 3 years later. They did not have offspring.
  • Nene (born ~ 1972 in Cameroon - ). Nene had one child, Ai, by Rikki.
  • Ai (born February 27, 2003 - ).

The first female to get pregnant by Shabani was Ai. On March 15, 2012 she gave birth but unfortunately, the baby died soon after.  Ai was only 9 years old at the time.

On November 1, 2012, Nene gave birth to a healthy male. The zoo requested suggestions for a name and 170 days after being born and more than 3000 votes later he was named Kiyomasa.[19] Kiyomasa was named after Kato Kiyomasa, a Japanese feudal lord of the late 16th century.

Ai became pregnant  for the 2nd time and on June 2, 2013 a female infant was born. She was named Annie by combining the names “Ai” and “Shabani”. Unfortunately, Ai failed to properly take care of Annie and she was taken from the troop to be raised by the zoo staff.

On March 31, 2014  Annie was moved from the nursery, along with her pillow and towels, to a room next to the gorilla house.  From this room she could see, smell and hear the other gorillas. There were bars between the rooms that allowed for close contact. Shabani and Kiyomasa spent the most time interacting with Annie.[20]  

The next step in the reintroduction to the family was to open a small door that only Kiyomasa could go through into Annie's room and play with her.  Shabani would spend hours at the little door looking into Annie's room.[21] On May 2, 2014 Ai and Annie were reunited in a room by themselves which had a small door for Annie to pass through to and from her private room.[22] Ai and Annie were allowed to bond alone until October 20, 2014 when they moved in Shabani.[23] The whole troop was finally reunited on November 10, 2014.


Shabani was raised in a stable family that included both father and mother as well as many siblings. He is very loving, playful and protective of his kids. As his wives or kids walk by him, he is often seen touching or playfully biting them in a show of affection. He also likes to be chased as a game and will push and tease his wives into getting angry enough at him to chase him all over the enclosure. While he can be quite rough when he is trying to get one of the adult females to chase him, he is very gentle when playing with his children.

Gorillas in general are sensitive, but Shabani might be a bit more sensitive than most. When he first arrived in Nagoya the stress of the move and being among unfamiliar gorillas caused him to earn the nickname “tyrant” among the zoo staff. However, after Kiyomasa and Annie were born he was renamed “ruler of virtue”.[24]

When Shabani started attracting larger crowds of screaming females he withdrew from the outside and started spending more time indoors. The zoo then put up signs asking visitors to refrain from yelling “Shabani” which was making him uncomfortable.

Shabani's favorite food is eggplant.[25]


Zoo spokesperson Takayuki Ishikawa told AFP that Shabani's paternal skills is one thing that makes him so attractive to human females. "He's a father and he always protects and looks over his children," he said. "Zoo-goers think his kindness is attractive too[26]".


Shabani can be seen often on many YouTube videos engaging in playful activities with both Annie and Kiyomasa. They will wrestle and play bite as if engaged in a battle. Shabani immediately stops the play at any sign that the child wants to stop.

You can see some examples here:

Another favorite activity that has been dubbed as “the chase game” by some YouTubers is when Shabani teases, pokes and shoves one of his females into chasing him. When he wants to run and be chased he will push until someone gets angry enough to chase him around the enclosure.


Shabani can also be seen often engaging in affectionate interactions with members of his family. Such interactions include quiet play, snuggling, grooming, holding hands and feet, etc. Here are some examples:

Shabani the protector[edit]

From the beginning even though Annie was raised by human caretakers, Shabani showed a strong protective instinct for her. Yasushi Shibuya, a spokesperson for Higashiyama Zoo, said that when Annie began living together with the rest of the troop, there was a period where Nene would attack Annie. In response, Shabani would rush into a room at breakneck speed to protect Annie as soon as he heard her scream.[27] Shibuya, believed that this might have been because Nene perceived Annie as a threat to her son Kiyomasa who was only 7 months older than Annie.[28]  

In the process of protecting Annie, Nene was hurt a few times but she soon stopped attacking Annie.

In this video Shabani interferes before things escalate and places himself between Annie and Kiyomasa and Nene.

In this video Shabani stand by Annie and places himself between Annie and Nene to protect Annie.

Shabani protecting Annie from Ai, Annie's mother, being too rough with her.

Special Skills[edit]

Tightrope walking[edit]

Shabani was 10 years old when he first gained fame in 2007 for tightrope walking.  According to Hiroshi Kobayashi, head of Higashiyama Zoo in the central city of Nagoya, the ropes were put in place for the gorillas to hang from them. However, Shabani found a much better use for them and started balancing and walking on them.[29] Today, in addition to Shabani, Nene, Ai, Kiyomasa, and Annie are able to tightrope walk as well and do so on a regular basis.

High jumping[edit]

On Aug 15, 2010, one of Shabani's keepers placed a couple of banana pieces high on the wall of the outdoor enclosure to see how high Shabani would jump to get it. Shabani was 13 years old at the time and weighed 418 lb (190 kg). Photos of the jump were taken and the height measured afterwards. The jump on this day was measured at 2 ft 7.5 in (80 cm).[30]

On Sept. 27, 2015 a video was posted on YouTube showing Shabani making another high jump to reach leaves on the wall. The video can be seen here:


Shabani has been seen enjoying twirling and dancing on occasion

Shabani's drumming does not involve only beating his chest. He usually also includes stomping, kicking his legs to the front or kicking them backwards to hit a metal door to make noise. He also will stomp in place or drum while running.


After Shabani became a hot topic on Twitter, news of this “handsome gorilla” was picked up by the world media such as CNN,[31] BBC,[32] Telegraph UK,[33],[34] Daily Mail UK,[35] and ET Online[36] among others. As a result of his popularity Nagoya City who owns the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical gardens registered the terms “Shabagni and Shabani” as trademarks on Sept 23, 2016. As of October 2016, 150 items related to Shabani and authorized goods such as towels, sweets and stationery have been produced. The sales of these goods account for 4 - 50% sales of Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens total product sales.

Commercial – Advertising Success[edit]

  • Shabani was included in a special edition movie poster of the movie Tarzan Reborn released only in Japan.[37]
  • Adobe Systems Inc. released a font modeled after Shabani. The font includes capital alphabet and Arabic numerals. Five photos of Shabani were also released [38][39]
  • Adobe signed a talent contract for Shabani with Higashiyama Zoo & Botanical Gardens for him to be the model of their image editing software in Japan as part of a Year of the Monkey campaign in 2016. 2016 is the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese Zodiac, and with more and more people in Japan designing their own New Year's Cards using their PC, Adobe thought Shabani was the perfect choice to promote the company's image editing software.[40]
  • On Jan 4, 2016 Nagoya City announces that it will use Shabani's star power for a city employment recruitment campaign. The campaign includes a 4-minute video and posters.[41]  
  • Meito Sangyo Co., Ltd. exhibited a large chocolate art piece between January 19 to February 14, 2017 at the Tokyu Hands Shibuya store's Valentine event. This event was held to announce the release of the “Alphabet Chocolate Shabani Package”.[42]

Shabani Art[edit]

  • Yuki Tokuda, a very popular illustrator in Japan was asked to make an illustration of Shabani with an Orenzu metal grip type.[43] This illustration was released on February 24, 2016. A video was also released by the entertainment news magazine with the artist explaining the process of drawing this illustration which took 20 hours to complete. Each hair was precisely drawn individually.[44]
    Lego Shabani
    Shabani built out of Legos
  • On April 2017, Legoland Japan made a sculpture of Shabani built entirely of Legos. The sculpture is built out of 40,000 Legos and is 1.2 M (3’ 11”) in height and weights 100 kg (220 lbs.). The Lego sculpture was displayed for a time at the Crystal Square of the underground Sakae Mall in Nagoya City until being donated to the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens.[45]
  • The Japanese painter Chisato Abe, who is famous for her gorilla paintings, made a painting of Shabani which was displayed at the zoo on May 2016[46]
  • Artist James J. Choi modeled a ceramic sculpture after Shabani which was published on his website on May 6, 2018.[47]
  • DesignCrowd created a contest in which designers would use Photoshop to unofficially endorsing top global brands. The contest ended on July 5, 2015. The winning entry was a mock ad for Calvin Klein underwear.[48]
  • Shabani sculpted from a 5 tonne solid block of Kilkenny marble by Dominic Hurley
    Shabani sculpted from a 5 tonne solid block of Kilkenny marble by Dominic Hurley
    Artist Dominic Hurley[49] sculpted a Shabani monument in Kilkenny black marble from a 5 tonne block, which is published on the website of London Fine Ltd in Oct 2019[50]


  • The Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens published an official Shabani Photo Album on October 3, 2015. Sales in Amazo exceeded 15,000 copies in just one month, and ranked No. 1 best seller in 3 categories, Photography, Zoology, and Pet General.[51]
  • On March 21, 2016, Shabani was included in a photo collection called "Higashiyama Extinct Zoo" which was part of “The Extinct Zoo Project” at Higashiyama Zoo.[52]
  • On Sept 21, 2017 Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens released a children's picture book titled, “Shabani Daisuki” where gorillas and humans connect in friendship.[53]
  • On the 80th anniversary, March 4, 2017, of the Higashiyama Zoo a 144-page guidebook was published which featured a photo of Shabani and one of his kids on the cover. Four pages inside the guide book were dedicated to the gorillas.[54]
  • Art Prints Japan has published three desk calendars featuring Shabani for the years 2017, 2018, and 2019.


  • The Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens released a DVD titled “Ikemen Sugiru Gorilla, Shabani,” or “Shabani, the Gorilla Who’s Just Too Hot,” on December 22, 2016. The video is narrated by Katayama, Kosuke.[55]


  • The Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical gardens in collaboration with Fuji Television Co., Ltd., included Shabani in the following games as a special character:[56]
    • "Thermae Romae Gacha
    • "Mangrove and mysterious bears"


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