It’s January, and we’re celebrating two of our favorite girls. Cherished longtime Zoo champion, trustee, and donor Betty White’s birthday is January 17, and our feisty western lowland gorilla, Angela, is turning four years old on January 18! Betty’s story and Angela’s have been woven together since our beloved Betty passed away in December of 2021. The response to her passing included an outpouring of gifts to the Zoo in her memory—a reaction she would have been proud to inspire as part of her enthusiastic and dedicated contributions to GLAZA and the Zoo. That’s why some of the #BeLikeBetty gifts that were given in her honor were earmarked for a special project.
Telling the story of two gorillas a world apart, Angela & Lulingu is the first book released by the L.A. Zoo featuring one of its animals, Angela. Written by GLAZA senior editor Brenda Scott Royce and featuring photos from GLAZA’s award-winning photographer Jamie Pham (both of whom had the pleasure of working with Betty White many times over the years), Angela & Lulingu is a true celebration of Betty’s priorities and the Zoo’s conservation efforts.
The book is partly about healthy, happy Angela, but it also tells the story of Lulingu, whose family was wiped out by poachers before she was brought to GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lulingu’s story illustrates the work zoos do as conservation organizations, a cause that was close to Betty’s heart, and how gorillas in human care are connected to the thriving of wild gorillas.
“The book is dedicated to Betty White,” says Royce, “because funds donated to the Zoo in her honor helped fund its publication.” In that way, the book is also a sort of collaboration between Betty and the people who loved her.
Now, a couple years after the book’s events took place, Angela and Lulingu are both thriving. “Angela’s personality is starting to develop,” says Animal Keeper Rebeccah Herrera. “She engages the rest of the troop and gets others to participate in play.” She’s also gained more than 17 pounds this year and has started losing the white tuft of hair on her backside. “The white tuft is present on baby gorillas, and as they get older the tuft will turn black to match the rest of their hair,” explains Herrera. As for Lulingu, she’s been integrated into a group that lives in protected habitat at GRACE. There’s hope that someday, she or others in her troop may be able to be re-released into the wild.
And of course, Betty White is still making an impact at the L.A. Zoo. Most recently, the Betty White Estate helped fund Betty White’s Zoo Pals, a program that supplies K-5 students from Title 1 schools and their teachers with free programming and supplies.
Cheers to Betty and Angela and Lulingu!