LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — This Christmas will be extra special at the Los Angeles Zoo, which is expecting the birth of a critically endangered western lowland gorilla for the first time in 20 years.

The highly-anticipated birth is expected between now and January, zoo officials announced Wednesday.

“We’re really excited to share the news of this pregnancy with the public,” Beth Schaefer, the zoo’s director of animal programs at the Los Angeles Zoo, said in a statement. “The western lowland gorilla is critically endangered in the wild, so having an insurance population in zoos is extremely important.”

First-time mom N’djia and veteran dad Kelly are expecting the first western lowland gorilla to be born at the LA Zoo in 20 years. (credit: Tad Motoyama/Los Angeles Zoo)

The baby will be born to 25-year-old first-time mother N’djia. Animal care staff confirmed N’djia’s pregnancy after observing her breeding with the male silverback gorilla Kelly. N’djia is nearing the end of her 8.5-month gestation period, and the zoo’s staff is cautiously optimistic the baby will be born sometime before January.

Zoo staff says they are confident N’djia will be a good mom because she has lived in a group with babies before. Kelly has fathered other offspring and is a very patient, playful dad, according to the zoo.

N’djia will decide where and when she gives birth, but the zoo says staff is trained and ready to support her. N’djia and Kelly, along with their companions Rapunzel and Evelyn, are remain available to visitors daily at the zoo’s Campo Gorilla Reserve.

Western lowland gorillas are native to the lowlands and swamp forests of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Angola, according to the zoo. Most groups are composed of one silverback adult male, several adult females, and their offspring.

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