Kala was a female mangani from the Tribe of Kerchak who's name meant "Milk-Light". Kala was the mate of a male named Tublat. She lost her first offspring during one of Kerchak's rages when seeking to escape the mad brute leaped to a tree and started to swing from tree to tree. Kerchak pursued her with the intentions to rape Kala and during the pursuit, the little ape fell to its death. With the death of the infant, Kala dropped down to hold the body. This later ended Kerchak's rage and he called his tribe to go to the cabin on the coast where the Clayton's were living. She saves the infant Tarzan from the murderous fury of Kerchak, the mad leader of the ape band after the latter kills Tarzan's human father. Kala goes on to rear the human baby as her own while protecting him against Kerchak and her own mate, Tublat. After Tarzan reaches adulthood, Kala is killed by a native African hunter, who is afterward killed by Tarzan in revenge.
Kala also appears in Jungle Tales of Tarzan, the sixth book of the Tarzan series, which relates episodes from the ape man's youth omitted from Tarzan of the Apes. Chapter 7, "The End of Bukawai," relates an episode in which Tarzan is almost killed when he swings so long on the rope that it frays and parts, dropping him to the ground. Kala runs to the boy's aid and he soon revives.
In Disney's Tarzan (1999 film) and its direct-to-video sequel, Burroughs's "Great Apes" are gorillas, and Kala is the mate of Kerchak (a much more benign figure in the film) rather than Tublat, who himself appears in the Disney animated TV series as the rogue tyrant instead. In the film's retelling, Tarzan's parents are killed by Sabor the leopard, and Kala saves the infant Tarzan from Sabor, not Kerchak, though Kerchak disapproves of this after their biological child died at the hands of the same leopard. She does not die in the movie. Kala was voiced by actress Glenn Close.