• Chunichi Shimbun


A western lowland gorilla from Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Chikusa Ward, Nagoya, is becoming a celebrity, thanks to Twitter.

Dubbed an ikemen (colloquial phrase for “hot guy”) due to his well-defined facial features, 18-year-old Shabani has attracted throngs of visitors to the gorilla habitat on weekends.

“He’s got the attitude down pat,” one visitor said, while another commented that “he looks better in real life than in the photos.”

The attention has generated a buzz especially among female visitors. As people lined up around the gorilla cage on a Sunday afternoon earlier this month, one young woman shouted loudly, “There! There’s the ikemen,” when Shabani came out and started gobbling up his food.

“He is indeed handsome. Unlike other gorillas, he has a strong presence,” a 34-year-old housewife from Kita Ward said.

According to one of the zoo employees, Shabani has nearly doubled the crowds at the gorilla habitat on weekends. In fact, the indoor passage is often so packed it’s almost impossible to walk along the corridors.

Shabani was born at Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands and was moved to Taronga Zoo in Sydney shortly afterward. He was brought to Higashiyama Zoo for breeding in June 2007. He has fathered offspring with each of the two female adults and is the leader of the five gorillas in the habitat.

His soulful but sharp eyes give weight to his presence.

Yasushi Shibutani, 50, who is in charge of the gorillas, said Shabani is in his late 30s or early 40s in human years. He said Shabani looked youthful when he first arrived but has matured in appearance since his babies were born.

“He is a father protecting his herd. You can say that he has become a man, behaving appropriately for his age,” he said.

Shabani weighed about 100 kg when he first arrived but has gained 90 kg since, giving him an authoritative presence. He started gaining fame after a visitor tweeted a photo of him in March.

It was actually a photo of Shabani’s mate, Ai, 12, from a panel in the zoo that first went viral. It showed her pumping her fist in the air.

The conversation soon turned to Shabani, with people posting comments such as “He looks like a nihilist,” and “What a glum face!”

Since then, Shabani has been featured in several media reports and even appeared on the front page of a major Internet portal. He quickly became a household name and drew offers to make a photo book.

The zoo was initially not aware that one of its charges had become the main topic of conversation on the Internet.

“We used to get only a few young women as visitors, but they have increased recently,” one staffer said.

The zoo hopes those who come to visit Shabani will also discover the facility’s other charms.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published June 20.