I am the zoo keeper for the monkey and otter mixed-species exhibits in Lost Forest at the San Diego Zoo. Working with our lively bunch of animals for almost three years has brought me great joy. Being a zoo keeper for this particular group sure keeps me on my feet and my mind stimulated! Trying to keep up with five different species in the same area and have them get along can be challenging, but it sure works out and provides for some amusing times.
Let’s take the upper exhibit, for example. We have Helen, our Congo forest buffalo, who is 33 years old! Normally they live 18 to 20 years in the wild and about 29 years in zoos. Don’t let her age fool you: she is a spry, sweet girl who loves to sun herself along the back of the exhibit. Sometimes you will see her with her best friend, Oboi, the male red river hog. They like to snuggle up together and catch some Zs. These two are like peas in a pod; with both of them being the same rusty color red, you can almost say Oboi is a bit like Helen’s Mini-Me. Every once in a while, you will see Jaribu, our male Allen’s swamp monkey, hang out with Oboi. Jaribu sometimes thinks he is a cowboy and will climb on Oboi’s back as if to ride him like a horse! Oboi doesn’t mind, as he gets a gentle back massage with the off-chance that Jaribu will groom him. It’s a pretty funny sight!
Jaribu is definitely our most courageous and amusing monkey. He LOVES to interact with our spotted-necked otter girls Lila and Shani. You will most likely catch him in the waterway wrestling and playing tag with the otters. It may look like a fight may ensue, but it is all horse play with Lila and Shani loving the attention.
Jaribu is also a great “fisherman.”Allen’s swamp monkeys are known omnivores and can eat all types of fruit, leaves, insects, and even fish. So you might see Jaribu “go fishing” in the waterway to try and steal the otters’ fish that I toss for their midday feeding.
Jaribu’s mate, Ota, is a delightful, shy female Allen’s swamp monkey. You will also see her in the waterway and sometimes in the upper island hanging out with our male Schmidt’s spot-nosed guenon, Haraka. Don’t stare too hard at Haraka, though: he might give you a stare-down head bob, which is considered a threat to some monkeys and apes.
Check back soon to meet the animals living in the lower mixed-species exhibit!
Jasmine Almonte is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.