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guenon behavior

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Little Guenon, Big Step

Installment #5
Read Installment #4: Little Guenon, Big Sister

Gigi snuggles with Mimi.

Gigi snuggles with Mimi.

Things continued to go well for Gigi. The relationship between Gigi and her sister, Mimi, was consistently positive, as was her relationship with brother Dru. Most of the time, mom Fifi was patient with and even affectionate toward Gigi. However, we occasionally saw Fifi separate the two girls when they played with each other or sat together, encouraging Mimi to nurse from her briefly. Sometimes, Fifi would carry Mimi away from Gigi. It seemed as if Fifi was unsure about this new relationship that took up so much of her older daughter’s time. Even though we didn’t always understand the dynamics of what was going on with the new family, the Wolf’s guenons did and were working things out among themselves.

Our next step was to prepare Gigi for spending the nights with her family. The guenons often sleep in a cozy hammock suspended from the ceiling. The hammock is made of clean, soft burlap and is large enough for several guenons to sleep together. To encourage Gigi to sleep in a hammock, we strung one up for her in her nursery in the Children’s Zoo and moved all her favorite items into it. Gigi got the “hang” of the hammock and began to use it every night.

Gigi’s first sleepover with the guenons occurred on February 13, 2009. This was Gigi’s last big step. Instead of returning Gigi to the nursery in the late afternoon, nursery keepers fed Gigi her last bottle of the day in the guenons’ bedroom area. We were happy to see that, after drinking her warm bottle that night, Gigi climbed into the hammock to sleep with her sister. The next morning, Gigi appeared rested and had even gained some weight. Our Gigi was a full-fledged member of the guenon family!

These days we have new challenges with Gigi, which are the kind of challenges you really want to have. Sometimes Mimi is holding on to Gigi with such loyalty and devotion that it is difficult to separate the two for weigh-ins or feedings. Gigi has a few more lessons to perfect, like how to forage for food quickly. Until she does, she is briefly separated from the family so she can get enough of the choice food items before a savvy member of the guenon family snatches them up.

As we drop Gigi’s last few bottle feedings, we reflect upon her success. Gigi lives her days surrounded by her cohesive and intelligent family. She continues to gain weight and confidence as she grows. We are proud of Gigi and wish her well.

Janet Hawes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Little Guenon Gets Acquainted

Janet puts Gig's heat disk in a soft blanket.

Janet puts Gigi's heat disk in a soft blanket.

Installment #2
Read Installment #1: Little Guenon Gigi

When Gigi was two weeks old, we had essentially eliminated all the obstacles of her socialization. Gigi was eating and gaining weight well, was bottle adapted, and could hold her body temperature outside of the incubator environment. She still relied upon a heat disk to keep her toasty when outside or in a cool room.

Gigi is gently placed in her transfer crate.

Gigi is gently placed in her transfer crate.

On December 4, 2008, Gigi made her debut. She was bundled up and placed into a transfer crate in the nursery. Her heat disk was added to keep her snug in the nursery cart that we use for transporting neonates around San Diego Zoo grounds. When Gigi arrived at the Wolf’s guenon exhibit, her family showed up right away at the gate; they were alert and curious. I sat by the wire mesh of the gate leading to the exhibit, removed Gigi from the crate, and placed her on my lap with the heat source close by.

For her part, Gigi was quiet and a bit unsure, holding on to her favorite stuffed animal and looking around. Immediately the family jockeyed for position, shoulder to shoulder so each could get the best view. Soon they began to reach through the wire mesh, pulling on the blankets and probing for Gigi. Mom Fifi was the most eager, gently touching Gigi’s head, lifting her tail, and inspecting her fur carefully. The reception, which lasted 45 minutes, was resoundingly positive. Mom never left my side while I sat with Gigi. This introduction continued for several successive days. As we observed the progressive positive interactions, we began to formulate a plan. Fifi was showing maternal interest in Gigi, and since Fifi was still nursing Gigi’s sister, Mimi, she still had milk. We decided to try a full reintroduction to the guenon group to see if Fifi would begin to carry and feed her youngest daughter.

On December 9, a full tactile introduction was attempted. Since the group was so attentive and gentle through the gate, we felt comfortable taking the reintroduction to the next step. So, instead of sitting by the gate as usual, guenon senior keeper Leticia Plasencia placed little Gigi in one of the animal bedrooms alone. We set Gigi up with a “safe home base.” She had her favorite stuffed surrogate tied to the wire mesh so the family couldn’t take it away. Gigi also had her nice, cozy heat source wrapped in a familiar blanket to provide warmth during the introduction. Leticia opened the door, allowing the whole group inside for full access. We were hoping that Fifi would pick up and carry her baby.

We were on hand when the family was allowed accesss into the bedroom area. That day the family never left Gigi and chose to hang out with her in the bedroom, but Fifi never did really pick her up. There were a few motions that looked like she may have tried, but the two never quite accomplished it. Instead, there were more of the same enthusiastic investigations by all members of the guenon family. Big sister Mimi was a guenon of interest at first. We were a bit worried that Mimi’s earlier behavior with her little sister would carry over, especially if Fifi decided to pay more attention to this new baby. Although Fifi did make a few rough grabs, she was largely only curious about the new arrival.

As it turned out, we didn’t get everything we were hoping for that day. When we removed Gigi to return her to the nursery, we had not witnessed a major event, but we had launched a new and important process. Now that we knew Gigi was safe with the family, we could make our visits much more significant by letting Gigi spend part of every day outside the care of humans, surrounded by her guenon family. Gigi’s introduction made giant leap forward.

Check back soon for my next blog, where I’ll talk about the Gigi’s introduction into the exhibit.

Janet Hawes is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.