Apes and Monkeys

Apes and Monkeys


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,


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


Introducing Gorillas to a New Troop

Monroe and Kokamo are in the foreground, with Imani and Frank just behind them in the exhibit

Monroe and Kokamo are in the foreground, with Imani and Frank just behind them in the exhibit. Click to enlarge photo.

The introduction of gorillas Imani and Frank to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s gorilla troop is moving along nicely (see previous post, How Are Zoo’s Gorillas Faring at Safari Park?). It started with Imani and Frank having visual access to the troop. All the gorillas could see, smell, and even touch fingers with each other through mesh “windows.” Youngsters Frank and Monroe played and played through the mesh!

Once Imani was ready (we were waiting for her to ovulate), our silverback Winston was allowed into Frank and Imani’s rooms. Winston and Imani hit it off right away! There was some expected tension between Winston and Frank, as Frank was used to playing with silverback Paul Donn while living at the San Diego Zoo, and didn’t really know what to make of Winston. The three were given access to the gorilla exhibit and did well, but Frank pretty much steered clear of Winston.

After several days of this, it was time to give Frank a break and start the next step of the process. Winston was separated from Imani and Frank and reunited with adult females Vila and Kami. Kokamo and her son, Monroe, and Imani and Frank were initially given access to each other for several hours a day. Monroe was understandably apprehensive and stayed very close to his mom, but as time went on, Frank and Monroe started to play together more and more in the bedrooms, and the time they spent together was increased.

Over the past two weeks, the comfort level of these four has increased significantly, and the boys play quite a bit on exhibit as well. Now they are together 24 hours a day, and soon we will be making more progress in uniting Winston, Vila, and Kami with Kokamo, Monroe, Imani and Frank!

It takes time and patience to facilitate the integration of new troop members, but the successful outcome will be well worth it!

Peggy Sexton is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


How Are Zoo’s Gorillas Faring at Safari Park?

Vila gives Monroe a lift.

Vila gives Monroe a lift.

Gorillas Imani and Frank, formerly residents of the San Diego Zoo, are doing just fine in their new home at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park! (See post Gorillas Imani and Frank.) They’ve met the Safari Park’s other gorillas through two barred windows we call “howdies,” and Frank and Monroe, the Park’s 1½ year old, are having a great time playing through the howdies. Of course, it’s very limited contact, but they are obviously having a good time! We are waiting for Imani to cycle before we introduce her to the Park’s silverback, Winston, followed by the Park’s adult females and Monroe.

Much thought and discussion went into this recent gorilla move. The decision was made to move Imani and Frank to the Park to get Monroe and Frank together and buddied up as youngsters so they can live together when they get older in a bachelor troop, if the need arises. Gorillas typically live in single male/multiple female troops; with a 50:50 birth ratio, there are always more males than females that need a social group in which to live. Therefore, some all-male troops must be established. This type of troop also occurs in the wild where it is generally a transient type of social dynamic.

Allowing Frank and Monroe to bond now also provides a tremendous amount of enrichment as well as growth and development opportunities for the little guys. Troops normally would have several females and their offspring, so the energetic youngsters always have playmates at hand. There is no doubt that Frank and Monroe will become best buds and will have tons of fun together.

Frank is also getting to meet more members of his family, as the Park’s Kami is his paternal grandmother, and Vila is his maternal great-grandmother!

Imani was included in the move because of her bond with Frank as his surrogate mom, and there is also, through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for gorillas, a breeding recommendation for Imani and Winston.

Peggy Sexton is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


What Might Monkeys Be Up To?

The Guizhou snub-nosed monkey’s night life was a secret until recently.

The Guizhou snub-nosed monkey’s night life was a secret until recently.

February 10 marks the beginning of a new year, the Year of the Snake, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. I cannot help but reflect on what I have done in the past year and contemplate what I wish to accomplish in this new year.

Last year, my research project focused on an investigation of wild Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys in China using camera traps. This work was conducted in Fanjingshan National Nature Reserve (FNNR) in collaboration with the reserve’s administration. We set up a network of over 100 camera traps to monitor, in addition to the Guizhou snub-nosed monkey, many hard-to-see wildlife species in the reserve (see post Monkeys, Leopard Cats, and Bears, Oh My!,). Some of our unexpected captures were images of Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys moving about in the middle of the night (see article in Primates). Although these monkeys are considered daytime active species very much like humans, our camera-trap data provided unequivocal proof that they are routinely active after dark. What might the monkeys be up to?

Guizhou snub-nosed monkeys’ nocturnal habit, we believe, is motivated by the need to acquire as much food as possible. In other words, the monkeys are up at night because they are hungry. To some people, this discovery may seem like a non-discovery, but many great scientific discoveries are inherently simple, and they often start out with a simple observation, like the apple that fell on Newton’s head. But I digress, back to the monkeys.

An important outcome of our camera-trap study, besides showing the behavioral flexibility the monkeys have to cope with living in a highly seasonal environment, is the need for researchers to rethink methodological designs that minimize observer bias. If we habitually observe diurnal primates during the daytime we, of course, have data that only show them being active during the hours we observe them. Camera traps, therefore, are excellent devices to augment our data collection. And, because of the amount of photographs we have, you can count on me spending much of my time this year uncovering more secrets about the animals in Fanjingshan.

My research collaborators, from left: Duoying Cui (Beijing Zoo), Marco Gamba (University of Torino), me, Yeqin Yang (FNNR), and Kefeng Niu (FNNR)

My research collaborators, from left: Duoying Cui (Beijing Zoo), Marco Gamba (University of Torino), me, Yeqin Yang (FNNR), and Kefeng Niu (FNNR)

An intrinsic part of what I do as a scientist is to assist students with their professional development. Through mentorship of students, I help foster future colleagues and, in turn, expand my network of collaborators. This past year several of my students completed their research thesis, attained a higher degree, received scholarships, and/or launched new projects. James Dopp is a graduate of the University of Vermont who worked with me in Fanjingshan in 2010 through 2012. He has been awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to further sharpen his research skills in primate conservation in China.

Kefeng Niu, a resident biologist of FNNR, continued to benefit from my coaching. In August, he successfully delivered a paper in English at the International Primatological Society Congress. The Congress also provided Kefeng a chance to meet other professionals, among them, Dr. Marco Gamba, my Italian colleague from the University of Torino. I introduced Marco and his research on primate vocal communication to Kefeng. We later invited Marco to join us in Fanjingshan to resume our wonderful discussion about snub-nosed monkey biology with China’s renowned primate expert, Yeqin Yang (see post Saving Monkeys Takes a Team). And the rest, as they say, is history, because when Marco left Fanjingshan, he had already signed a five-year research agreement with the reserve administration and gained a prospective PhD student, Kefeng Niu. Mama mia!

Cameron makes her debut as “Yi Jie Jie”

Cameron makes her debut as “Yi Jie Jie”

Recently, my mentorship pool of students included a junior from High Tech High International. Her name is Cameron Ishee, and though only 16, she is well on her way to transforming how people perceive and treat animals. Because of Cameron’s ability to speak Chinese (Mandarin), I asked her to help me create a series of bilingual video lessons for the children in the Little Green Guards program in Guizhou (see post March of the Little Green Guards). Each episode stars Cameron as Yi Jie Jie (or Big Sister Yi) teaching an English alphabet letter and about half a dozen animal-related words associated with the featured letter. To make learning memorable and fun, we segue from the classroom lessons into video segments of our Zoo and Safari Park animals. In doing so, we are achieving several objectives: introducing a world-class animal collection to underprivileged children who would otherwise never have the opportunity to travel to San Diego, and enhancing the school curriculum by teaching these children a highly valued foreign language that only children living in the more affluent urban areas of China are learning.

Our pilot episode is almost complete. Cameron and I will continue making more episodes this year. Just a little spoiler alert here, snake will be featured in our upcoming episode: “S is for Snake.”

Chia Tan is a scientist in the Behavioral Biology Division with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.