Apes and Monkeys

Apes and Monkeys

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.

19

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.

22

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.

34

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.

37

Orangutans Clyde and Cinta

We are so proud of Clyde!

We are so proud of Clyde!

Clyde is doing really great at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure in Salina, Kansas (he moved there in May 2011, see post Changes for Orangutans). Clyde and Rusa continue to get along well. Both animal staff and animals alike love Clyde. He is the only male with whom female Ruse has been paired that she likes! But who wouldn’t like Clyde? He is the sweetest male, and all the girls like him (well, except Indah, of course). There is not any expectation of an offspring from them, though. Rusa has some reproductive issues that would make getting pregnant very difficult. A baby would be a happy surprise. The keeper there was telling me that Clyde is funny about his browse; he is turning his nose up at the Midwest varieties of trees and leaves.

After a few setbacks, Cinta is with all of the orangutans at the St. Louis Zoo (he arrived there in October 2012). Originally, the staff was planning on introducing Cinta to the mother and daughter there, hoping for a successful pairing with the older female. Unfortunately, the females had a different idea! While reevaluating the situation, the staff noticed that Cinta and Robbie, their 19-year-old male, seemed compatible. They were separate from one another but were sharing food back and forth and hanging out near one another. Staff never planned on introducing the two males, but they decided to try and then, later on, Robbie and Cinta could together be reintroduced to the girls.

This has proven to the best of solutions. Cinta and Robbie are now best of friends! They hang out together and share food. Just last week, staff put all four together with a much-improved outcome. ☺ Now, whenever there are any problems, Robbie steps in and defends Cinta (not that Cinta needs much help—he is much faster that the girls! Keepers are very positive about the improvements they have seen and expect things to continue to get better. We will keep our fingers crossed for a successful pairing!

Tanya Howard is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Planned Parenthood.

Here’s a fun video created for our digital ZOONOOZ, available as a free app from the App Store:

62

Orangutans: Planned Parenthood

Is Indah ready to become a mother again?

Is Indah ready to become a mother again?

We have just been given the go-ahead by the Species Survival Plan for orangutans (a part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) to have a baby with San Diego Zoo orangutans Indah and Satu! Indah has been taken off birth control. She was on birth control because we did not want her to become pregnant while raising her son, Cinta. Typically, sons stay with their mother for eight to nine years. Indah had been implanted with a device similar to Norplant in humans, so she needed a trip to the vets to get it removed. Just like with humans, it may take a while for her hormones to balance out. We are hoping that this time next year we will have a pregnancy or may be even a baby!

The siamangs and the orangutans get along for the most part. The assertiveness of the siamangs directed toward the orangutans at feeding times is behavior seen by researchers in the wild. We do see positive interactions with Indah and the siamangs. She shares food with them (and Satu, too!). Also, she has been playing a lot with Unkie, our male siamang, wrestling and wearing him on her head! It is really amazing to watch.

Even though our female orangutans have been hand raised, they are still wild animals. Their behavior is unpredictable, and, as such, we do not go in with any of them. There is plenty of keeper interaction with each individual with a protective barrier between ape and keeper.

Tanya Howard is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutans: Change is Good.

20

Gorillas Imani and Frank

Frank will have a new buddy to play with!

Frank will have a new buddy to play with!

On Tuesday, January 22, two of the San Diego Zoo’s gorillas were moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This move was recommended by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) program for gorillas and serves to place both in a situation where they will meet and form bonds with other gorillas that are expected to make good companions for the future. The following is information from animal care staff about the move.

After a short freeway ride freeway from the Zoo to the Safari Park, where Frank was peeking through a window to check out his caretakers in the cab of the truck, he and Imani arrived at their new home. Imani is 17 and is Frank’s surrogate mother; Frank is 4½. The move went smoothly as they were transported in their own crate (which they go in every day for training sessions) and unloaded into the Park’s gorilla building. They were a bit scared when being shifted into the rooms they will have in the days until the introductions to the Safari Park’s troop, but calmed down when they realized these rooms were across from the kitchen where the keepers prepare the gorilla diets.

Imani has already caught Winston's eye.

Imani has already caught Winston’s eye.

They were hand fed some of their favorite food items by their keepers. A little later in the day, Frank and Imani were given access to a room where they could see the Park’s troop on exhibit. A lot of positive interactions were seen between the Park’s silverback, Winston, and Imani as they sat close to each other and vocalized. Frank was a little more timid, staying close to Imani but checking out his soon-to-be pal Monroe, age 1½ (who was very clingy to Mom Kokamo). Vila and Kami also checked out their new companions calmly while Kokamo strutted by, tight-lipped at this new female in her presence. The visual introductions concluded at the end of the day as all the gorillas settled into their sleeping quarters for some much-needed rest after a long, eventful day.

Much thought and discussion went into the move. The decision was made to move Imani and Frank to the Park so Monroe and Frank could buddy up as youngsters and live together when they get older in a bachelor troop, if the need arises. Gorillas typically live in single male/multiple female troops, and with a 50:50 birth ratio, there are always more males than females who 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. Gorilla troops normally 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 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 an SSP breeding recommendation for Imani and Winston.

On Wednesday morning, Frank and Imani got to explore the exhibit for several hours. They cruised all over every inch and seemed to be having a good time, especially when they found that the trees drop figs! They also had access to the gorilla house and spent time engaged in a favorite gorilla pastime: watching the keepers work! After a couple of hours, they came into the house for lunch and the rest of the day. The troop then went out on exhibit. A great day!

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

39

What Do Primates Do?

Primate volunteers help us collect data on orangutan behavior.

Primate volunteers help us collect data on orangutan behavior.

Much of my time has been spent focusing on koala research both at the San Diego Zoo and overseas in koala habitats in Australia. However, that is not all that I do or am interested in! A few years ago, I decided to go back to focusing some of my efforts on primate research. Most of my previous work with koalas focused upon mate choice and factors that influence it, but with primates, the research opportunities at the Zoo are more focused on the social interactions within groups of different primates. Specifically, this entails undertaking a lot of behavioral observation work, otherwise known as standing in front of exhibits and recording behaviors for many hours.

As I’m involved with several different research projects, time for me is not always plentiful, as I am sure you can all relate to. In order for me to accomplish this expansion of my work, I either needed to clone myself or enlist the help of a dedicated group of individuals. For me, the choice was easy: I decided on the latter! Who are these people, you ask? They are our very own primate observation volunteers. They all come with unique backgrounds and personalities but share a singular goal: to watch primates and record their behaviors to help expand the behavioral knowledge we need to maximize welfare and bolster breeding success.

This incredible team of volunteers has helped to reach this goal by tirelessly collecting data, sometimes in the rain, and, in return, they have seen some wonderful animal behavior. Any one of them can tell you who likes to hang out with whom in the bonobo world, which, they can tell you, changes daily and sometimes even hourly! They also can tell you about the orangutan soap opera that continues day to day with Satu’s ladies vying with each other for his attention. They can even tell you which capuchins will gladly come to the front of the exhibit for a chance that someone walking by will give them attention!

These volunteers get to do what is one of my favorite things about my work: really focus upon what animals do on a daily basis. And for me, it’s particularly exciting, as I get to expand my ability to collect more data on more species of primates. Without their help, these studies would not be possible, and for that I am grateful to all of them.

If you’re at the Zoo or the Safari Park and you see someone in front of any of these exhibits with a clipboard and stopwatch, they might be one of these primate volunteers.

Jennifer Tobey is a behavioral biologist in the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Koala Headlines.