Baby Bonobo Climbs, Plays at San Diego Zoo

PrintThe youngest member of the bonobo troop at the San Diego Zoo could be seen playing, climbing ropes and rolling in the grass on Friday morning, Aug. 28. The female, named Belle, is 20 months old and is one of four bonobos that arrived at the San Diego Zoo last month, from the Cincinnati Zoo. Bonobos live together in integrated family groups. Belle, her mother, older brother and sister integrated easily into the existing bonobo troop providing them the opportunity for the kind of social interaction they would have in the wild.

Bonobos are a very rare and critically endangered great ape species native only to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but the wild populations are being decimated at an alarming rate. They are very closely related to humans, sharing 98.4 percent of the same DNA. The San Diego Zoo is one of only a handful of zoological institutions in the United States that house and care for this rare species.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.



Primate Enrichment

A siamang and orangutan inspect a painted gourd that was filled with goodies.

What exactly is enrichment and how is it used in the San Diego Zoo’s overall animal care program? This is a question that is asked more frequently than in the past. The general definition of enrichment is to make fuller, more meaningful, or more rewarding. This has a direct correlation to enhancing the quality of life for the primates in our care. Enrichment at the Zoo is equal in value to the provision of food, water, and shelter. Keepers spend many hours figuring out ways to stimulate the animals in our care, both mentally and physically. One of the biggest challenges is providing the monkey or ape with something that is safe and indestructible!

Orangutans are known for their independent thinking capabilities. If there is a way to dismantle or destroy something, they will find it. But just this process is stimulating! Since orangutans are arboreal, we try to provide items that we can freely hang from the climbing structures inside their habitat, simulating the natural movement of branches. Large plastic disks, balls, and other objects can be stuffed with plant material or novel food items like cereal, sunflower seeds, hot sauce, and spices. These enrichment items are then secured to the climbing structure with hardware and rope. We have to be diligent about making sure the nuts and bolts are very tight, otherwise one of our more mischievous orangutans (I didn’t want to name names, but…Karen) will be dismantling the apparatus within moments!

Hammocks are always a favored piece of furniture for most primates. They use them as storage units, to lounge in, and play on. And, for the industrious species, unravel, unweave, and retie with their own unique knot-tying skills!

The black mangabeys, which can be found in the Zoo’s Lost Forest, are very adept at manipulating puzzle feeders that are provided for them inside their “bedrooms.” Opposable thumbs come in handy when attempting to pull raisins out of tiny holes on a board or moving peanuts through a maze mounted to their enclosure. Hanging mirrors are also a novel way to spy on your neighbors down the hall! I have seen monkeys hold the mirrors (with safety glass) and angle them just right to get a good look at me or one of their conspecifics in the next room!

Primates are problem solvers. They use this skill every day in their natural environments as well as in their habitats at the Zoo. With the help of the Zoo’s March Wish List, we can provide opportunities to encourage stimulation for exploration, foraging, problem solving, and the senses. Wish List items include paper streamers for the bonobos, flowering shrubs for our colobus monkeys, and mirrors for Francois’ langurs,

Kim Livingstone is a lead primate keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Gorilla Born at the San Diego Zoo.


Orangutans Inspire Visitors

I must say that Janey and Clyde, the orangutans, have been great conservation ambassadors during our daily keeper talks at the Absolutely Apes exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. Just under a year ago, I began to develop a conservation package that would some day becomepart of a pilot program for the rest of the great ape areas of the Zoo (see Juan’s blog, New Age Orangutan Conservation). Our conservation package includes materials and products that are made of sustainable and/or reused material; these were used as tools to show Zoo visitors options that we, as consumers, have for becoming more eco-friendly at home.

We also display a poster that illustrates an array of products, from cookies to cosmetics, containing palm oil as an ingredient. Deforestation for the production of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia is the Number One threat orangutans face in the wild. With less than 65,000 Sumatran and Borneon orangutans left, it is critical that we help out by simply becoming more conscious consumers. With Janey, Clyde, and the rest of the orangutan family right on the other side of the glass during the presentations, guests walk away with an appreciation and respect for these complex creatures.

The San Diego Zoo will be celebrating Great Ape Awareness Days today through November 16, 2008. There will be six scheduled presentations daily at the orangutan, gorilla, and bonobo exhibits. Each presentation focuses on issues great apes face. Here’s the presentation schedule. We will see you there!

Juan Fernandez is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.