Apes and Monkeys

Apes and Monkeys

9

Baby Gorilla at Home

Imani cradles her infant while on exhibit at the Safari Park.

Imani cradles her infant while on exhibit at the Safari Park.

These past five weeks have been some of the most hectic and rewarding weeks that my fellow keepers and I have experienced on the job! Born via C-section and needing treatment for pneumonia and a collapsed lung, gorilla Imani’s baby girl had a bit of a rough start to life (see video below). Thanks to the dedicated team of people working around the clock, and her own fighting spirit, she eventually pulled through. Since being introduced to her mom and other gorilla troop members at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, life has been smooth sailing.

Imani has, so far, been the picture of an ideal mother. During the first couple of days of their introduction, Imani experimented with different ways of holding her new baby girl. While raising her “adopted” son Frank, he would often ride on Imani’s back. Gorilla moms usually carry their kids on their back until they reach about three months old. Imani quickly learned that this little newborn would much rather be held close to the chest and would demonstrate the strength of her rehabilitated lungs by crying loudly if Mom tried anything else! Look for Imani out on exhibit carrying the baby, usually in her right arm, while foraging. Having an infant in her arms has not slowed Imani down or diminished her appetite for kale, romaine, sunflower seeds, a tasty piece of acacia browse, you name it!

After Mom has had her fill, one of Imani’s favorite spots to sit down and nurse her baby is the heated pad in the giant root ball at the base of the fallen tree-climbing structure. You can often see Imani resting here at different times throughout the day, baby cradled in her arms. Watch for Imani holding the baby’s hand in her own or grooming her while she nurses. Frank, now 5½ years old, is usually not too far away, and the other gorillas frequently take turns passing by for a peek as they carry on with their own activities.

At the end of the day, the troop returns to the bedroom area for the night. After dinner, Imani usually makes a nest of hay large enough for her, her baby, and five-year-old big brother Frank to sleep together. Come to the Safari Park and watch with us as this little girl grows up!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

8

Orangutans: Why the Burlap?

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

A young Cinta enjoyed burlap, too!

Satu sits slightly down with a piece of burlap over his head; Indah lies in a hammock completely covered by burlap, and Karen has a burlap bag clutched in her foot as she does somersaults in front of the glass. What’s up with the burlap? Burlap is one of the enrichment items we give the orangutans on exhibit. If you have spent anytime at the San Diego Zoo, you probably have heard of enrichment. Enrichment basically refers to anything given to the animals that will increase their activity both physically and mentally.

When animals are on exhibit, we are limited to items that are natural in appearance, and with orangutans, we are limited further to items that are “orangutan proof.” Orangutans are intelligent, strong, and creative animals. Great care has to be given so that individuals cannot hurt themselves, destroy the items, or, more likely, use the item as a tool for mischief.

In addition to the burlap, pinecones, gourds, bamboo, browse, and palm fronds are enrichment items we commonly use on exhibit. We try to give them items that will encourage natural behaviors. Orangutans are arboreal mammals from the rain forest. They use branches and large fronds to protect themselves from the rain and sun. We give them burlap, browse, and palm fronds to mimic this behavior. We put treats and smears in and on the pinecones, gourds, and bamboo to encourage foraging behaviors and tool use. We have a simulated termite mound in the exhibit, which, of course, does not contain ants or termites but different sauces. It is not so important what is in the termite mound but that they use tools to extract what they want out of it.

Tool use is a learned behavior passed from mother to offspring. We saw Indah actively teaching Cinta to use the termite mound, and it will be great to see her do the same with her newest baby, Aisha. Different groups have different tool use methods, and even individuals have a preference when it comes to extracting the enrichment. When we give bamboo cups with gelatin inside, Satu likes to use his strong jaws and teeth to just break it open, Cinta would pound it on rocks and knock out the gelatin, while Karen uses a small stick to get the good stuff.

You will also notice when you look at the exhibit that there are large, plastic items hung on ropes. While they are not natural looking, they fulfill the other requirement: they are orangutan proof. We use these as permanent enrichment items in the exhibit. In addition to the animals using them to swing and play with, we also put food items inside periodically. As a result, the orangutans check them every day. This increases their activity level, but it also mimics a natural behavior. Orangutans have a mental map of the rain forest: where the fruiting trees are located, and what is edible. They remember where they found food in the past and return to it later.

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months.

14

Orangutan Aisha at 5 Months

What fun to watch Aisha grow!

What fun to watch Aisha grow!

The past five months have gone by so fast! Little orangutan Aisha is growing by leaps and bounds. I forget how small she actually was until I see a picture of her first day outside. Indah continues to be a great mother. She seems even more relaxed with Aisha than she did with Cinta, her first offspring.

The last few weeks have seen an increase in Aisha’s activity level on exhibit. Typically, Indah is active and moving around the exhibit first thing in the morning, and by 11a.m., she finds a comfortable perch in the climbing structure and relaxes for the rest of her time on exhibit, with Aisha hanging on her. Lately, we have seen Aisha off of Mom on the climbing structure and hammocks—it’s so exciting! At first, Indah’s hand was right there, and she was very vigilant. Now, Indah will be a few feet away, sometimes with her back to Aisha, and one time Indah even left the tree and went to the ground for a few minutes! It is amazing to see Aisha on her own, so interested in her surroundings.

Mom and baby are still going inside at 1p.m. so the siamangs can go on exhibit. It will be a while before we are comfortable introducing the baby to the siamangs. Because of male siamang Unkie’s previous behavior with Cinta, we do not want to try this too early, as it could result in unnecessary stress to Indah and Aisha or possibly injury.

When inside, Indah is even more relaxed. At a very young age Indah would put Aisha down in the bedroom and let her explore. It varies greatly between individual mothers when they break that mother-child contact for the first time. Literature has the range as early as 2 months and as late as 18 months. Indah was definitely on the low end of the range! She feels very safe in her bedroom and knows that there is no threat to Aisha inside. In her bedroom, Aisha climbs up the bars and across the ropes and back again. She is very active, but sometimes she just wants to be on Mom. We have a camera system set up in the bedroom, and this has really allowed us to see behaviors between Mom and baby and to see early development that we would not have seen if we were standing there watching. Indah typically is more protective if there are people present and usually will grab Aisha and hold her until people leave the area.

Aisha still does not have any teeth, but she is tasting everything, and everything goes into her mouth. She eats lettuce and would probably eat or try to eat other foods, but Indah is not good with sharing. The majority of Aisha’s nutrition is from nursing.

I get asked a lot how much Aisha weighs. Even though Indah lets Aisha climb and move around, she would never leave Aisha and move to another area without her. We can get weights anytime on Mom and baby together.

It will be great to see Aisha grow and change in the coming months. Every day I am excited to get to work and see all the cute stuff she does. Everything she does is cute!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Personalities.

11

Orangutan Personalities

Janey bonds with a young Zoo guest.

Janey bonds with a young Zoo guest.

Ever wonder about the personalities of the orangutans and siamangs you watch on Ape Cam? Wonder no more! Here’s a quick guide to help you tell “who’s who.”

Janey is the oldest animal in the exhibit. At approximately 52 years old, her hair is thinning on her back and shoulders, and her toes are curled up (it is painful for her to straighten them out). You may see her crutch-walking on exhibit. She is on medications, due to her age, for pain and gut mobility. She is our only Borean orangutan, born in the wild around 1962. She remains interested in “human items” due to the fact that she was hand raised and in private hands for the first half of her life. Her favorite spots in the exhibit are at the exhibit glass and in her zen/sun spot down the hill. She gets along with everyone in the group. But do not let her old age fool you! She lets her feelings be known, and she stands her ground.

Karen was born at the Zoo on June 11, 1992, and was hand raised. She survived a widely publicized open-heart surgery in 1994. Karen is very short and round (a no-neck girl!). Her hair is shorter than Janey and Indah’s, and her eyes are yellow. She has a LOT of personality, is very stubborn and willful but remains a keeper and guest favorite. Karen likes to twirl around on the sturdy bamboo poles in the exhibit. She also likes to roll around instead of walking when out there (she will and can walk, but chooses not to!).

Indah likes to sit in the far right (east) climbing structure. She rarely comes down to the ground, and then only to get food and be at the popular man-made termite mound to grab a snack. Indah is the pretty one of the group with long, flowing hair and a large bump in the middle of her forehead. She is very slow to warm up to new people, but she likes the siamangs and shares her food with them occasionally (an unusual behavior in the primate world!). She was a very doting mother to little Aisha, born in 2013.

Satu is our lone male orangutan and is Aisha’s father. He was born on March 26, 1995. His cheek pads and dreadlocks filled out once his father, Clyde, moved to another zoo. Satu has a sweet disposition and can usually be seen slightly down the hill in a bed of pappas grass. He is quite playful and often plays with the two siamangs that share the exhibit.

Aisha is our newest orangutan, born on October 25, 2013, to mother Indah. So far, her mother is doing a great job of caring for her, and little Aisha is skilled at clinging to Mom’s chest as the pair travel up poles and across the ropes. What fun we’ll have watching her grow!

Of our two siamangs, Unkie is much leaner than Eloise and his face is more angular. Siamangs pair bond for the life of their mate, and Unkie and Ellie have been together since 1987 and can often be heard singing duets.

Unkie, born on October 19, 1983, is usually the instigator with the orangutans; he likes to steal their food, pull on their hair, and swat at them. Eloise, born on April 17, 1981, has a visible belly and a bare chest. There is a discolored line of hair down the middle of her back. She has had five offspring with Unkie. The siamangs both are very sweet, not too aggressive to people or their orangutan roommates.

Now that you know a bit more about them, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy watching all the action on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post,

52

An Orangutan is Born!

Our photographer's patience is finally rewarded as Indah brings her baby outside.

Our photographer’s patience is finally rewarded as Indah brings her baby outside.

As the day of the orangutan birth drew near, my days as a keeper had fallen into a familiar pattern. After conducting morning health checks on the other animals in my care, I arrived at the orangutan kitchen on Friday, October 25, 2013. I turned the camera monitor on, expecting to see our pregnant orangutan still sleeping. Indah always builds her nest in the front corner of her bedroom and covers herself up with burlap. But today was different: Indah was awake and sitting up. I immediately got excited, as I expected to see a baby orangutan. After a few minutes of scanning the bedroom with the monitor’s camera, I could not see an infant, so I made the decision to go down to the orangutan bedroom area earlier than usual to check on Indah.

All was quiet and normal as I entered the building. When I approached Indah, she came right up to me and was calm. But it was obvious that something was happening. She was constantly moving and climbing around her room. I wondered if this time around she remembered when her son, Cinta, was born and could recall what was happening. Soon, a couple of other keepers joined me, and we contacted the manager and veterinarian staff on duty.

From this point, everything happened very quickly. I knew that with Indah’s first offspring, Cinta, her labor lasted for less than an hour after her water broke. Everything went much faster this time around! The first check on Indah was at 6:30 a.m., and by 7 a.m., her water broke. We thought we were going to have to wait for a while, but she delighted and surprised us by giving birth 15 minutes later!

The baby was alert, and Indah immediately cleaned the infant’s airway. The baby vocalized and clutched onto Indah. Within 30 minutes, the baby was completely dry and cute and as perfect as can be! We were fortunate to be able to determine that she was a little girl. At this point, Indah was very comfortable with us observing her and the baby.

She continues to be a very attentive and caring mother. Any time the baby vocalizes, Indah turns her attention toward her, and the baby quiets right down. Indah had been choosing to remain inside the bedroom area most days to focus on the baby without having to worry about her environment and the other animals. She is given access to the exhibit each morning but does not always choose to go out. Keep your eyes “peeled” for them on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan Indah: Think Pink.

52

Gorilla Frank Turns 5!

Gorilla Frank 5

Frank gets a turn to admire his colorful cake.

Frank, one of the newest arrivals to Gorilla Forest at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, celebrated his fifth birthday over the weekend. Along with the other six gorillas, he found many surprises waiting for him in the exhibit. Everything a five year old would want for the perfect birthday was there: presents, a cake, and even an airplane were enjoyed by the troop!

The cake, made by the Safari Park’s very creative Forage Department, had many layers of bright colors, fruits, and vegetables, and even his name carved out of yam. Large cardboard animals decorated the exhibit in the shape of a turtle, a mouse, a zebra, and more. Our volunteers did a wonderful job creating the cardboard animals and airplane, painting the gourds, and filling the small boxes with treats.

Vila, left, Winston, and Imani take part in the celebration.

Vila, left, Winston, and Imani take part in the celebration.

Winston, our silverback, enjoyed the cake first, meticulously picking off blueberries, orange slices, pineapple, and yam pieces with his fingertips. The rest of the troop walked all over the exhibit sampling the other goodies. One of the favorite items was the ice cupcakes with whipped yam topping. Goodie bags with air-popped popcorn, sunflower seeds, and raisins were also a big hit. The gorillas even enjoyed a wide variety of plants that we keepers provided, including ficus, Hong Kong orchids, and grewia. In response to the colorful buffet, contented belly rumbles were heard from many of the adults and excited chest beats from the two boys, Frank and Monroe.

Whimsical cardboard animals came to the party, too.

Frank gets eye to eye with a whimsical cardboard turtle.

Frank was able to investigate his cake once Winston found other treats. He smelled and licked the cake several times and decided it was best seen from above, standing on it for a few seconds. That is, until his feet got too cold! Continuing to play with it, Frank pulled the top section off and thought it was delicious. Meanwhile, Frank’s grandmother, Kami, made her way over to get a taste. The rest of the troop found time throughout the day to sample the cake. Even though it was warm outside, the cake lasted all day long.

Frank and Imani

Frank and Imani have settled nicely into their new home at the Safari Park.

Frank and his adopted mom, Imani, have been settling in nicely with the rest of the troop the past few months. After foraging in the morning, the troop is normally found in close proximity to one another while the adults nap and the young boys try to stay out of trouble. Frank and Monroe are constantly playing tag and wrestling, occasionally trying to include one of the adults, and this birthday party was no different. Monroe and Frank ran all over the exhibit, tossing all the decorations around and having a great time!

Frank’s birthday was a grand success due to all the help from our Forage and Volunteer Services departments.

Danielle Leffler is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

14

A Bird Keeper’s Favorite Moments

Will the black-billed wood dove be on the move during your next Zoo visit?

Will the black-billed wood dove be on the move during your next Zoo visit?

As a bird keeper at the San Diego Zoo, there are many times throughout the month when I get to see something funny, interesting, or even amazing. Though individually these events may not be substantial enough to fill up a whole blog, I can keep adding other must-share stories until…voila. A full blog! For the first blog in this series, I have a story about a dove that doesn’t realize why she is so interesting. Then we find out what the Zoo’s barbets have been hiding. Lastly, we see that our Bird Department doesn’t just take care of the Zoo’s birds; want to see what else we’re up to?

I'm sure the bonobo was just a puzzled as I was!

I’m sure the bonobo was just a puzzled as I was!

Who “wood” have guessed?
There is a little bird exhibit between the bonobos and the African crowned eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus exhibit in the Zoo’s Lost Forest. In this exhibit lives a black-billed wood dove Turtur abyssinicus who does a perfect imitation of a statue. I have rarely seen this bird move while feeding and cleaning the enclosure. I may see her plain as day and even greet her with a “good morning,” but she refuses to break character and remains still as stone. One day, to my shock, she was walking along the ground pecking at bits of food!

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this rare event, though. A bonobo who shares a glass windowpane with the dove’s exhibit also saw the mobile bird and came over for a look. The normally shy dove looked up at me, looked over at her next-door neighbor, and went back to eating as if it were no big deal. Seemingly unable to contain his shock, the bonobo lightly tapped on the glass. The dove again looked up, turned her back to both onlookers, and continued with her meal. I wonder if the bonobo had the same thought going through his mind as I did as I walked away: “Well, you don’t see THAT every day.”

Chicks at last for our bearded barbets!

Chicks at last for our bearded barbets!

Barbets prefer to decorate their own nest
The bearded barbets Lybius dubius in the enclosure between the Scripps Aviary and the gorilla exhibit have chicks! The male and female have been mates for awhile, but they haven’t had much success when it comes to reproducing. This spring, keepers took their old nest away and gave them a palm log with only a small starter hole toward the top. The barbets were immediately curious. Letting them have free reign to burrow their way into the log, the barbets created a safe little nest for their eggs.

Maybe the bonding experience of making their own nest triggered their parenting instincts, because as of press time there are two new fledgling barbets, courtesy of the hard work put in by Mom and Dad (and maybe a few of their keepers, too!). Come check them out!

A red-shoulder hawk is saved by the Bird Team!

A red-shoulder hawk is saved by the Bird Team!

The Bird Department: Jacks of all trades
On a regular basis, the Zoo’s Bird Department is called in to save the day, or at least to save the duckling…or the hummingbird…or the sparrow. During the breeding season we usually get a couple of calls a day to help a lost mallard duckling find its mom, or to relocate a baby bird that may have left its nest a little early. In June, we got to help out a much larger feathered friend, a red-shouldered hawk Buteo lineatus! The wild hawk needed help, as it had managed to fly into an exhibit that was under construction. Though there weren’t any animals on exhibit, the netting prevented the bird from finding her way back out!

After amassing a number of bird keepers with nets of various sizes, we quietly entered the exhibit. With tall nets that can be lengthened by adding segments, we tried to net her at the top of the tall enclosure. After less than a minute, the hawk flew very low and almost into a keeper’s net! The surprised bird made a quick course correction, but she lost all her speed, stalled, and landed in the grass a few feet away.

One of our very experienced raptor handlers, Paul, acted immediately by grabbing her—with gloves on—before she could again take to the sky. We could tell that the bird was one of the young red-shouldered hawks that lived around the Zoo with her siblings and parents. Paul walked his young ward to a safe release area where, upon opening his hands, she took flight, perched high in a tree, and started to preen. I think the whole department went back to our “jobs” with smiles on our faces!

Mike Grue is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Metallic Starlings: Showstoppers.

4

For the Love of Lemurs and Monkeys

Black and white ruffed lemur

Black and white ruffed lemur (photo by Rose Marie Randrianarison)

I recently returned to Madagascar after a five-year hiatus. Even though these days I am steeped in research and conservation work in Asia, I was thrilled when the opportunity arose for me to revisit the island. As a scientist, I am not embarrassed to profess my fondness for lemurs because there is nothing embarrassing about transforming one’s passion into action. And lemurs are the reason why I became a primatologist in the first place.

I still vividly remember my very first lemur encounter. It was with a group of sifakas. In the lush rain forest, enveloped in a shroud of mist and fog and breathless from hiking up what I thought was the steepest trail in the world, I was astounded by the sheer beauty of these animals. There I stood, quietly watching the sifakas move about from tree to tree, so elegant in their posture, like ballet dancers pirouetting across an emerald stage. By the end of my field season, despite all the rain and leeches, I was absolutely hooked on lemurs!

Fast-forward 20 some years: Madagascar still excites me in the same way and my fervor for lemurs has not waned. At Maromizaha, which I visited on this trip, I was enthralled by the myriad of creatures that call this forest home. On my first morning walk, 6 of the 13 species of lemurs greeted me. Maromizaha, like many rain forests along the island’s eastern strip, is a true naturalist’s paradise!

Brown lemurs

Brown lemurs (photo by Zafison Boto)

The most impressive lemur is the indri. Weighing about 17 pounds, it is the largest living lemur species in Madagascar. Indris are known for their operatic singing ability. Often in the morning, male and female indris can be heard singing duets to announce their presence in their territory. There is another lemur in the forest with a well-endowed voice, the black and white ruffed lemur, although its vocalization is more a cacophony than a melody! Lemurs are so interesting to me because of their biology, and through this exploratory trip I hope to learn more about the lemur community in Maromizaha.

North of Maromizaha is a famous national park called Mantadia. Just a little to the west is another well-known preserve called Andasibe (also known as Perinet). These three forest parcels at one time were connected and quite large—but today they appear as isolated specks on a map. Slash-and-burn agriculture, logging, and mining are the main contributing factors to these ever-shrinking forests. From one of the highest points in Maromizaha, I could see where this paradise ends. Beyond is a much different world—a barren landscape devoid of all vegetation and lemurs. How do we protect a paradise like Maromizaha?

Diademed sifaka (photo by Chia Tan)

Diademed sifaka (photo by Chia Tan)

The answer is conservation partnerships with a focus on scientific research, local capacity-building, rural development, and education. So when my colleague, Professor Cristina Giacoma from the University of Torino, Italy, learned about the successes of our camera trap research, in-country training, and education program for schoolchildren in Fanjingshan, China (see posts What Might Monkeys Be Up To?, Monkeys, Leopard Cats, and Bears, Oh My! and March of the Little Green Guards), she invited me and San Diego Zoo Global to partner with her Biodiversity Integration and Rural Development (BIRD) project in Maromizaha.

This approach to biodiversity conservation is not new but it has been proven effective. Our initial camera trap work in Maromizaha and a survey of Malagasy children’s preferences and knowledge of wildlife have produced very promising (not to mention some surprising!) results. Cristina and I will soon meet in China where our partnership continues, and she will witness firsthand the ongoing conservation and research projects we have with partners in Guizhou and Beijing. There, our labor of love will help conserve leaf-eating monkeys, such as the highly endangered Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys and François’ langurs.

Chia Tan, Ph.D., is a scientist in the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

 

 

58

Orangutan Indah: Think Pink

Orangutan IndahSince the day orangutan Cinta went to the St. Louis Zoo, I have been asked on a daily basis “Are we going to have another baby orangutan?” Since the day we got permission from the Species Survival Plan for orangutans and took Indah off her birth control, I have been asked “Is Indah pregnant?” My answer would always be “These things take time. It’s only been a couple months.” Well, I can finally say it; no, yell it: INDAH’S PREGNANT!

Our girl is a real Fertile Myrtle; it seems she got pregnant her first month off birth control! All indicators point to a positive pregnancy. She has a decrease in appetite, an increase in lethargy, and she is very sweet and calm with her keepers. These are behaviors typical of a pregnant orangutan and behaviors she exhibited during her pregnancy with Cinta. Indah tested positive to a urine pregnancy test during her first trimester. Orangutan pregnancies are about 245 days (8.5 months), so we expect the baby to be born in October.

Now, you won’t see many changes with Indah and our management of her. Orangutan babies are only 3.3 to 4.5 pounds (1.5 to 2 kilograms)
 when born, so Indah will not gain much weight. You might be able to see some physical changes, like an increase in belly size and nipple changes. Indah will be staying with the group and be going on exhibit daily during her pregnancy, so look for her on exhibit and on Ape Cam!) We want to keep things as normal and routine as possible for Indah to keep her calm. Her behavior will let us know if we need to make changes to her routine—we let the pregnant lady decide what she wants to do!!

Orangutans can develop health problems much the same as pregnant humans, but the risk is minimal. We will, of course, be keeping a close eye on her health as we do with all the animals. We are very excited about this pregnancy and are looking forward to a little red-headed baby!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans Clyde and Cinta.

10

Gorilla Snacks

Kale is one of the many leafy green items fed to the Zoo and Safari Park gorillas.

Kale is one of the many leafy green items fed to the Zoo and Safari Park gorillas.

Primarily herbivorous, gorillas eat the leaves and stems of herbs, shrubs, and vines. In agricultural areas, they may raid farms, eating and trampling crops. They will also eat rotten wood. The fleshy fruits of close to a hundred seasonally fruiting tree species make up a large part of their diet. Gorillas get some protein from invertebrates found on leaves and fruits. In the wild, gorillas spend much of the morning and evening feeding in a small area. However, since lowland gorillas rely heavily on fruit, they sometimes travel up to about a half mile or more in search of fruiting trees.

Although they don’t have to travel far at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to find a meal, the gorillas do get a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, low-carb biscuits, and browse (plant material). Browse varieties include acacia, ginger, bamboo, grewia, tipuana, eugenia, and ficus, all grown at the Safari Park. The items are all offered on a rotating basis so they don’t get the same food every day. The gorillas are fed five to six times a day, and food is distributed throughout their bedrooms and exhibit to encourage foraging.

Two of their meals are fed inside the night bedroom. Although the keepers do not go in the bedrooms with the gorillas, we do have limited contact through the bars. This allows us the opportunity to develop relationships with each of the gorillas. Hand feeding creates a bond with each gorilla and facilitates health assessments and distribution of medications. Operant conditioning, a training technique using positive reinforcement and rewards, is also used to further enhance the rapport between the gorillas and the keepers. The gorillas enjoy the individual attention!

Each day the gorilla troop at the Safari Park consumes approximately 5 pounds of fruit (such as apples, oranges, pears), 43 pounds of greens (such as kale, romaine lettuce, spinach), 16.5 pounds of veggies (such as jicama, onions, broccoli), and 7 to 10 branches of browse. Snack food is offered in limited quantities on a rotating basis and may include air-popped popcorn, sunflower seeds, tamarind pods, raisins, prunes, applesauce, peanuts, and popsicles made with fruit juice/nectar.

Peggy Sexton is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Introducing Gorillas to a New Troop.