Leon, a young gorilla that has demonstrated leadership traits, is heading from a Spanish zoo to South America, where he will be the only one of his kind on the continent and will have an opportunity to start a family.

The gorilla, who is about to turn 15, is being readied for the journey of his life this fall.

Leon will leave behind his brother and other gorillas at the zoo in Tenerife, one of Spain's Canary Islands, and cross the Atlantic to Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

He will join female gorillas Imbi, who is already at the zoo, and Lou-Lou, who will be transferred simultaneously from Britain's Howletts Zoo.

Leon's descendents will help the species have a presence in South America in the future and are expected to draw visitors from Brazil and its neighbors, zookeepers Juan Vicente Martinez and Rafael Zamora Padron said.

Imbi and Lou-Lou will be the first females that Leon will smell and see since separating from his mother in his native Tel Aviv eight years ago.

Gorilla families in the wild are led by a male, who is accompanied by several females and young.

European zoos are home to 429 gorillas - 192 males and 237 females - of the approximately 1,000 animals living in captivity.

The majority of gorillas at zoos were born in captivity and not hunted.

Central Africa's gorilla populations have been decimated by human encroachment into habitat, poaching and wars.

Gorillas, which can live to be 50, are the closest cousins to humans after chimpanzees, with a DNA variation of only 1.6 percent. EFE