This grande dame of great apes was the first western lowland gorilla born at the San Diego Zoo.
  • 1960s
  • 2010s

Western lowland gorilla Alvila’s birth in 1965 was a worldwide sensation. She was the first gorilla born at the San Diego Zoo and only the seventh surviving gorilla birth at a zoo in the world. Her name is a combination of her parents’: Albert and Vila. When Vila wasn’t able to nurse her properly, baby Alvila was raised in the Children’s Zoo nursery, where thousands of visitors flocked to see the endearing and energetic little ape. Her rarity—not to mention her beguiling good looks—landed her on the cover of ZOONOOZ in September 1965.

When she grew up, Alvila was a well-traveled gorilla and went to a zoo in Fresno for a breeding loan in 1978, and then returned to San Diego. She had four offspring of her own, and she also became a surrogate mother to other youngsters. One of them was the Safari Park’s Imani, who grew up to be the surrogate mother for Frank and who just had her own daughter, Joanne, in 2014.

Alvila was a positive role model for other gorillas and a peacekeeper in her troop. Her keepers and many admirers were fond of Alvila’s calm and tolerant personality.

Images of San Diego Zoo Centennial commemorative pins. ShopZoo: Your one-stop shop for Centennial commemoratives, gear, and more!