Zoo InternQuest is a seven- week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here!
Interns had the amazing opportunity to meet with Kim Livingstone, Lead Primate Keeper here at the San Diego Zoo. Ms. Livingstone spoke with us about her job supervising Gorilla Tropic and how we can help in primate conservation. She also gave us the inside scoop on the troop’s newest member, Jessica’s new baby boy, who was born on December 26th, 2014.
Throughout the San Diego Zoo, exhibits are grouped by bioclimatic zones. This means that animals that live in similar regions in the world, such as the African rainforest, live close to each other at the Zoo. The exhibits come alive with plants native to the region of the world that the animal lives in. For example, Gorilla Tropic has dense jungle tree canopies, which mimics the gorilla’s natural habitat.
Five-time mom Jessica enjoys a quick snack while playing with her new two-month-old baby boy. Jessica is an exceptional mother, with this December baby having been her fifth one born at the San Diego Zoo. Like most other gorillas in North American zoos, Jessica is a Western Lowland gorilla, a species that is endangered in the wild. Habitat destruction, illegal poaching, and human interaction have all contributed to most subspecies of gorilla being listed as “critically endangered”. We can all help to turn this around by being mindful of what we buy and how we impact the environment.
Ndija perches on a tree limb as she watches her troop mates play. Gorilla families are patriarchal, meaning that an adult male silverback leads the group. Ndija’s brother, Paul Donn is the patriarch of this family. In order to prevent unhealthy breeding between siblings, the keepers at Gorilla Tropic give Ndija birth control. Gorillas breed out of necessity, which means that they will only mate when a female is ovulating and has a higher chance of getting pregnant. By tracking their reproductive cycles, keepers can better keep an eye on hormone levels and see when each female is in estrus, or preparing to mate.
Ndijia scrunches up her face while she watches Zoo guests through the glass windows into her enclosure. Gorillas are closely related to humans and show similar behaviors, such as grieving, bartering, and playing games together. Adult male silverbacks can weigh up to 300 pounds and stand at nearly 5 feet, 5 inches. Females are smaller with shorter arm spans. The bigger size of the male helps him assert dominance or dispute territory when a threatening new male comes to the clan.
The San Diego Zoo strives to make each enclosure as comfortable and natural as possible for the animals. Gorilla Tropic even includes a waterfall and pool to cool off! Ms. Livingstone helps develop enrichment programs for the Zoo’s gorillas, such as rope swings, food puzzles, and hiding treats around the enclosure in order to encourage foraging. It is sometimes difficult to design enrichment programs that are exciting for gorillas because of their intelligence and how quickly they learn, but Ms. Livingstone rises to the challenge and designs special programs that target specific traits in gorillas, such as foraging or playing with family members.
Interns also got a special look at the Bonobo exhibit, where the Zoo’s residents run, jump, and play in their beautiful enclosure. Guests often hear the bonobos before they can see them, as their vocalizations can be heard nearly across the Zoo. Interns discussed similarities between gorillas and their close relatives, bonobos. Unlike their close relatives the chimpanzees, bonobos eat a vegetarian diet and are found to be more loving and family-orientated when compared to chimps.
Emily, Photo Team
Week Three, Winter 2015