Baby gorilla Joanne continues to grow and develop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Baby gorillas will continue to nurse until mom chooses to wean them, usually between ages three to four years. Still, at 10 months old and with a full set of baby teeth, Joanne has developed quite a healthy appetite for solid foods!
Western lowland gorillas are herbivores, meaning that they eat only plant material. Each day, we offer the gorillas at the Park a variety of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, tree branches harvested from the our browse farm, and high-fiber primate biscuits. Little Joanne is developing a taste for her favorites, favorites, although her opinion seems to change almost daily! When Joanne either eagerly devours or spits out something we have offered her, we consider ourselves “updated” as to her preferences.
Keepers feed the gorillas in different ways throughout the day. We spread food items around the exhibit to allow the gorillas to forage at their own pace in addition to calling them to a spot or “station” to receive individual diets specifically measured out for each gorilla. During these station-feeding sessions, Joanne has learned that it benefits her to put some distance between herself and mom, Imani. While Imani is generally patient about letting Joanne finish chewing whatever food is in her mouth, anything in Joanne’s hand or on the ground around her is fair game!
At lunchtime on exhibit, Imani and Joanne station on the upper right-hand hill of the gorilla exhibit, and keepers can toss items to each individually. Morning station feedings in the bedrooms are set aside for training and generally occur as a one-on-one keeper to gorilla session. Since Joanne has become interested in participating in these sessions, she often gets her own keeper with to interact with while Imani focuses on her training on the other side of the bedroom.
For now, these sessions with Joanne are helping her form relationships with her keepers and build up her confidence away from mom. As little Joanne grows older, keepers will begin training her to offer different behaviors useful in our care of her, using her favorite food items as positive reinforcement. As for what those favorite food items will be, Joanne will certainly let us know in her own way!
Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Joanne: Little Miss Personality.