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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Intelligence of Gorillas

Gorillas know their colors

and they can learn sign language. They can even learn to understand the names for their various body parts. But put an enticing toy ring on a tree, and you just might find gorillas completely puzzled, at least when they're only about two years old. The wondrous reality is that you can observe the gorillas using their intelligence to try to devise a way to get a toy that looks attractive. Such was the case recently when I visited Apollo and Bomassa at the North Carolina Zoo. Each day, the keepers bring in some items for enrichment, so that the animals have something new to think about, something new to touch, to carry, to play with, to fascinate them. On this day they had brought in large black plastic rings, scattering some here and there on the ground.  I would not be surprised if the keepers had tucked some food into the sides of those rings. It's entertaining for the gorillas to manipulate an object, but even moreso, if there is some food to be had in the process. But not all of the rings were within reach. The keepers had placed one ring at the end of a log, those crafty devils! And the baby boys were fascinated!  They tried and tried to get at that ring, and to knock it down.

First, Bomassa looked up at that ring for the longest time, as you see in the top photo. And then Bomassa skillfully climbed up that log, going almost out to the end, but stopping short. I thought he was going to reach his hand out and flick that toy off the tree, letting it fall below. But instead he grabbed the ring and manhandled it, trying to pull it towards himself. That did not help at all with the mission! So Bomassa climbed back down, and then Apollo copied his big brother and did exactly the same thing. And he got the same result, leaving the ring exactly where the keepers had placed it.

As you can see in the last photo, Bomassa is standing right under the ring. I wonder if this is coincidence, or if Bomassa has figured out that if that rings falls when he is there, he is going to be the one to get it, even though Apollo did the work. Anyway, the boys gave up and attended to other boy gorilla matters, such as finding some food in the brush, and checking in with their mamas now and then. But the allure proved too much, so later they tried again for the ring, using an entirely new method. All will be revealed in next week's post. If you are signed up for email, you will be the first to know! Look for the Follow By Email box over in the right hand column.

Bomassa looks wistfully at the ring on the end of the branch


Bomassa and Apollo took turns

Apollo gets close as Bomassa observes from below

Monday, August 4, 2014

Happy Birthday Bomassa!

Today, August 4, is Bomassa's second birthday. 

When he was born two years ago, the zoo and all of North Carolina rejoiced. It had been years and years since the last successful birth of a baby gorilla--since 1989 when Kwanza was born to Hope and Carlos. Fun fact, while NC Zoo was graced with two amazing boy gorillas in the same month (Bomassa and his little brother Apollo, born on the 31st), the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago had big news of their own. They greeted the arrival of two baby girl gorillas just a few months later. Patty was born in October, with Nayembi following in November.  And who was the daddy, you might ask, of these two adorable gorilla girls born only about a month apart? Why, that was Kwan, formerly known as Kwanza, who had been much loved in North Carolina.

Jamani  holding her son Bomassa. December 2012.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Olympia Gorilla Throws a Punch

Friction Among the Gorillas Last Week

I am not sure what was going on, but Olympia, the dominant female gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo was ultra testy last time I visited. More than a few times, she approached adult female Jamani in a threatening way. And what does that mean for gorillas? 

Olympia right, Jamani left, with Bomassa on her back
When gorillas go on the rampage, they bare their teeth and they charge, but they don't necessarily engage for much contact. Here you can see that as Olympia throws a punch at Jamani, she is not even looking at her target. And then, just as quickly as she started, she is done, and running past. The goal seems to be to show displeasure, but not to get involved in a huge battle. 

Olympia left, Jamani right, Bomassa on her back
What could be the problem? You can see that Bomassa is right there on his mom's back, and that Apollo is right at the base of his mother's feet. As far as I could tell, the only times that Olympia was going after Jamani were times at which Apollo was hanging out nearby Jamani and Bomassa.  I wonder what it's like to be a little boy gorilla clinging to a mother in the midst of defending herself!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Gorillas Up the Wall

They're driving Apollo Gorilla Up the Wall

or maybe he's just found a climbable spot! In the spirit of the very young child he still is, he keeps practicing and practicing and practicing. When we were kids we called it play. But experts in child psychology tell us that when kids are playing, they are doing it to learn, to develop skills, to get stronger. See that spot over there on the right, near the grate? There is just enough of a texture on that wall to give Apollo some places to rest one foot, as he holds a higher spot with one of his big hands. Then he carefully places the other foot, and again, a hand, until he gets up pretty high!  Eventually he runs out of places conducive to climbing and he leaps backwards and drops to get down again.  Don't worry, he can't get out. That wall slopes the other way as it gets higher. And it's quite a high wall, designed so that the animals can't possibly hoist themselves high enough to get themselves into trouble. But it's fun to watch him try. #YouCouldGo!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Gorilla Moms and Discipline

Discipline Breeds Respect and Affection 

Apollo is spending more and more time these days with his brother's mother. He likes her! And who wouldn't? Jamani Gorilla is calm, patient, caring and sweet. On the other hand, she's no pushover, and when Apollo gets out of hand she pulls him back in line. She'll hold his leg to immobilize him when he gets too frisky, and she'll even give him a little bite on the shoulder if she has to. Full of energy, Apollo Gorilla wears the other gorillas out!


Apollo, left, and Jamani
This little dynamo is into the go, go, go method of enjoying life. Sure, he hangs out with his mom, Olympia, when he needs a little snack. (Approaching the two year mark, he's not yet given up nursing.) And he'll remain long enough for a cuddle with Olympia at times, or take a nap on her furry self. But when Apollo's awake and wants to play, he twirls over to see big brother Bomassa, who's generally quite near mom. And that is when you can sometimes sneak a peak of Apollo looking up and gazing adoringly at Jamani.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gorillas Walking Upright

Gorillas walk upright part of the time

Usually they're sitting, or lounging on their backs or moving around on all fours, but little Bomassa often has two hands chock full of food. When he's got carrots, there is no way he is going to let them loose! Instead he toddles around, legs only, and he does it like a pro! An adept and well-practiced walker, Bomassa is grandson to another walker, the inimitable Toni Gorilla.  She tends to walk upright very often, and some say this may be traceable to the fact that she was handraised. These days, whenever possible, the keepers and veterinarians at AZA zoos will try to make sure the mother is taking care of her own baby. When that can't occur due to illness or maternal rejection or other issues, the zoo assembles a team of round the clock caregivers who will handraise the baby. This is a good stopgap measure, but it's not ideal.  It's easier for a gorilla baby to learn gorilla ways from other gorillas than from people.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Feeding Time at the North Carolina Zoo

Feeding time at the NCZoo is a hoot to watch.

The keepers go up on top of the wall and throw down a couple of boxes full of nutritious food,  various vegetables and greens.  The gorillas go scurrying after their favorites. Bomassa grabbed himself a couple of handfuls today and then found himself a nice place to sit and enjoy.  He loves his carrots, he's got one in each hand, but he's clutching a nice slice of green pepper too!  The fun happens around 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM each day. #YouCouldGo 


Bomassa weighs just a little less than 26 pounds now. You can tell that he is changing and growing. His face is looking more mature and filled out now than it was looking just a few weeks ago. Look at this little bruiser!