Berlin - A baby female gorilla born nearly a month ago at the Berlin Zoo has finally been named after fans submitted 17,000 suggestions to West Berlin's former zoo. At the former East Berlin zoo, the Tierpark, officials have decided to tear down the crocodile house, built in 1987, because it's too inefficient.

After taking to social media to solicit names for the offspring of mother Bibi and father Sango born in Germany's oldest zoo 15 February, zookeepers this week settled on "Tilla". 

"We were overwhelmed by the many submissions," Zoo director Andreas Knieriem said. Some submissions even arrived by snail mail and included children's drawings of the gorilla baby. But ultimately the name was picked because of its simplicity and because it rhymes with "gorilla". 

Tilla is the first baby gorilla born at the zoo in 16 years and keepers celebrated the naming by giving the gorilla family a huge buffet of rice, raspberries, pomegranates, peppers and carrots.

Our gorilla needs a villa

"Contrary to what many assume, the gorilla diet consists largely of salad and vegetables," zoo veterinarian André Schüle said.

It's unclear when visitors will be able to see Tilla. Both Berlin zoos are working to reopen animal houses that were closed due to the lockdown and since the most likely place to see the gorilla would be in an external enclosure, keepers want to wait for warmer weather - probably April.

The zoo also wants to build a better apehouse for Tilla and her ilk. But the project lacks financial support, which was further setback by the corona-related record fall in revenue. The zoo is reviving the 1930s Hans Albers hit My gorilla has a villa in the zoo as part of its money raising efforts.

But it's not just gorillas that need new digs: the crocodile house at the Tierpark in Friedrichsfelde will also be demolished this year.

Photo: Berlin Zoo
Gorilla party!

The building is an environmental hog and the neighboring Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) needs part of the site to build a new research facility. The building is located behind Friedrichsfelde palace, in the out-of-the-way northern reaches of the park.

The single-glazed crocodile house is now outdated and the heating system, which provides the necessary moist warm air for the reptiles, is considered an energy guzzler. The structure ifself is also no longer aligned with current animal husbandry standards.

"The building alone is responsible for about 10 per cent of the total heat demand of the 160-acre zoo, has an annual energy consumption equivalent to that of about 150 unrefurbished single-family homes," said Tierpark spokesperson Philine Hachmeister.

Its current residents will be rehomed, either within the park, to the Berlin Zoo or even to other facilities outside Berlin. After Pancho the false gharial crocodile was relocated to the Alfred Behm house that opened at the park last year, the remaining animals are two Chinese alligators, two Mississippi alligators, eight different species of aquatic and terrapin turtles, a green iguana and about a dozen birds.

Ah, Knut

In order for construction to begin in 2023, the crocodile house is to be demolished as early as the end of the year. The costs for the demolition will be co-financed from construction funds for the research building, which is to be complete by 2025.

The IZW and Berlin zoos have worked together for years. The research institute solved the mystery surrounding the death of celebrity polar bear Knut, who died 10 years ago as a result of a rare autoimmune disease at the age of four. IZW researchers also served as experts when the zoo artificially inseminated the female panda Meng Meng in 2017.

A "Science Forum" near the new IZW building is planned to showcase efforts for species preservation.