Monday, October 29, 2012

Acacia Goes off Birth Control

Acacia the gorilla might get pregnant this year.

Acacia is the eldest of the three female gorillas living at the North Carolina Zoo.   In the past, she has not been designated for breeding because she has a very well-connected family tree.  She is one of many children of the very prolific Tatu, who himself has more than a few siblings sired by Jambo. Acacia is therefore related in one way or another, to quite a few gorillas in captivity.

Who decides when a captive gorilla will breed? 

The transer and the breeding of captive gorillas are strictly overseen by  the gorilla Species Survival Plan program under the AZA.  The goal of any SSP is to maintain a genetically diverse,  healthy and self-sustaining population of the various species.  All these years, the gorilla SSP has decided not to try to breed Acadia because of the fear of inbreeding. The problem would not effect her children so much,  but it would become an issue for their mating. It would be quite difficult to try and find unrelated gorillas to serve as mates for any of Acacia's babies  But now, suddenly, at age seventeen, Acacia has been taken off of birth control. Why?

The breeding season of 2011-2012 has had a very low yield, with only Bomassa and Apollo and two other gorilla babies born in all of the AZA zoos by midyear 2012. It is unusual to have only four successful gorilla births in a year. More gorillas are needed, so the SSP decided to go ahead and give Acacia a chance. She's not related to Nkosi, the silverback she lives with, and further, she's got an excellent opportunity this year to observe how mother gorillas behave with their babies, which is crucial to the successful raising of those young ones.  So the medicine (which incidentally is the exact same kind of birth control used for women) was stopped and now we are waiting to see what happens. Zoo volunteers told me they have seen Nkosi make a few attempts. While I was standing there, Acacia refused an opportunity, but other times she was willing. So you never know. We could learn any day now that Acacia is pregnant. How will they know for sure? The zookeeper will administer an EPT pregancy test.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Apollo Got His Name

Adorable Apollo often rides piggy back upside down

Baby of Olympia the Gorilla gets a name

The younger baby gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo did not have a name right away. Originally, the zoo hoped to sell the naming rights.  The zoo's baby book still reads as of this writing as follows:

Olympia, a female born in 1996, gave birth around 7 p.m., Friday, August 31, to a four-pound male baby. The infant went on exhibit with its mother the following day.  This infant is currently unnamed. The North Carolina Zoological Society is seeking a sponsor to help pay for a shelter structure at the N.C. Zoo's Gorilla Exhibit that would include the right to name the zoo’s new baby gorilla.
However, I recently spoke with the zookeeper, who reported that they had decided to go ahead and name the baby in advance of finding the donor. Apollo seemed an obvious choice, so Apollo it is. Meaning Sun God, the name is Greek, as is the name of mother, Olympia. She was named in honor of the Atlanta Olympics, having been born in June 22, 1996. At the same time, Apollo is also named in honor of his grandfather, Sunshine, who once graced the the San Francisco Zoo.  The zookeepers work very closely with the gorillas and feel much more comfortable being able to relate to Apollo by name.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Gorillas Keep Warm in the Straw

The gorilla babies are starting to play with straw!  On a cold day, the mom gorillas will forage for some food at the Forest Glade exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo and then they'll head  over to where some heaters are installed above the viewing glass. The staff brings in fresh straw every day, first thing in the morning,  and lays it there by the glass. Gorilla moms Jamani and Olympia will pick up the straw and spread it around. Then they curl up in that straw to keep warm for their after-meal snooze.  At first the babies would jerk their arms and hands around, not knowing exactly how to control their limbs. But now the older baby, Bomassa, born August 4, 2012,  is able to manipulate that straw and play with it, making a mess all over his fur, and wrapping pieces around his legs and arms.  Here is the delicate foot of Bomassa , complete with opposable big toe, and the strong and large hand of his mother.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gorilla Caught Trying to Steal Baby Again

Olympia the Mom Gorilla has been caught in the act. Yes, she is at it again, she apparently wants to get Bomassa away from his mother Jamani. You've been reading here about the five day siege which began with zookeepers arriving early one morning to find that Olympia had both gorilla babies and Jamani had none. No information was available as to exactly what had happened. Nothing had been caught on tape and park rangers  had not seen the event.
Gorilla tries to steal baby
Olympia , left, with Apollo on her back, grabs Bomassa's leg

Gorilla moms will occasionally abandon their babies, so there certainly was the possibility that Olympia was only helping out after Jamani had decided she was unable to care for her son. But no, as we saw, Jamani was only too happy to get Bomassa back and in fact, nursed him constantly for hours. Nor do these photos, taken this week, show a mother who might have engaged in any willing surrender.

As always, larger versions of these photographs and others,  are available for viewing at the Zoo Baby Prints Gallery.

Above,  we see Olympia facing off with Jamani, and reaching around to grasp the tiny arm of sweet Bomassa. As I was photographing, she grabbed more and more of that arm. Below, we see Jamani fighting off the attack in her gentle way with her left arm pushing away Olympia's right. Jamani, bigger than Olympia, is nonetheless a very docile being, while Olympia seems a little more nervous, and asserts her dominance constantly. Olympia is the daughter of the famous Willie B of the Atlanta Zoo who took the role there of strong leader of his troop, after having been alone for the first 27 years of his captivity. Maybe she inherited some of that spunk. Hopefully Jamani will keep standing up for herself and her baby Bomassa.

Gorilla moms and babies
Jamani, right,  presses down on Olympia's arm, as Olympia's large hand grasps Bomassa's leg

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How the Mom Gorilla Got her Baby Back

Here's the resolution of the baby theft incident. After Olympia took baby gorilla Bomassa away from Jamani, she kept him (as well as her own son, Apollo) for a full five days before the zookeepers were able to settle on a decision as to how best to proceed. Recapturing the baby manually was out of the question, as was attempting to shoot Olympia with a dart. The answer injection with a tranquilizer.    They went ahead and tried it and Olympia drifted into a happy slumber.  Zookeepers were able to wrest Bomassa away from his usurper and hand him back to his birth mother. Luckily, Jamani was still producing milk so Bomassa can now continue to nurse.

See more gorilla baby pics and buy prints.

Why did all this occur? Why did Olympia take that baby away from Jamani? It is important to understand that in zoo management, efforts are made to acclimate young  females to mothers already raising babies.  This way the young lady gorillas get to observe motherhood and learn how it's done. So way before it was decided that Olympia and Jamani should be given the opportunity to mate with  Nkosi,  both females had lived in zoos where they observed the birth, the nursing, and the raising of baby gorillas.

As it happens, Olympia had done her observations in a zoo where twins were born, so she was used to seeing one  mom carrying around and nursing two babies at once. As the head honcho (she is the dominant female at the NC Zoo), perhaps she thought she ought to have both babies!   Jamani, on the other hand,  had lived among moms who were happy to pass their babies back and forth to each other; that was normal to her, it is what she was used to seeing. So maybe when Olympia took Bomassa away from Jamani, Jamani did not think it was any big deal. She may have assumed that Olympia would hand the baby back to her at any minute.  We may never know for sure. Anyway, now that Jamani and Bomassa have been reunited,  both babies are being observed closely and seem to be doing fine.

Above we get a rare glimpse of Olympia. She had run out of the warm heated area on the first cold day of autumn to get some of that tasty lettuce you see her holding. Look how tenderly she cradles her son Apollo as she runs back to cuddle up again in the straw piled under the heaters.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Gorillas and Opposable Toes

Gorilla bodies are awesome. They've got opposable toes; what would be the big toe is more like a thumb, allowing gorillas to grip with their feet. Imagine what skilled climbers we humans could be if we could use our hands to grip the upper branch, and our feet to wrap all the way around a lower branch. That's one thing a gorilla has over us: climbing capability. Additionally, their arms are longer, proportionally,  than ours which comes in handy when they are romping around on all fours.

I love how the moms lounge around with their babies. They'll  just stick a foot right up in the air and then reach up the arm, and hold hands with their own foot as seen here. And the babies will lie on the warm belly and stretch out, or work the neck muscles, or try to figure out how to employ their sweet little  hands.  Such is the after-meals routine of the gorilla mom and baby. Eat. Relax. What a life.  Here we have a full view of Olympia and Apollo, while Jamani, who is nursing little Bomassa, has her back to the visitors.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Rare Opportunity to See Gorilla Babies

Adorable Gorilla Baby
The chance to see gorilla babies at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro represents  a rare opportunity.  According to the NC Zoo website currently there are only about 350 gorillas in 52 AZA-accredited zoos with just four successful births out of eight pregnancies recorded during 2011 and early 2012. A full fifty percent of the gorilla babies in accredited zoos are living in the NCZoo. And fifty percent of those are gazing at you from this webpage.

It can't hurt you to take a nice pair of binoculars whenever you go to a zoo, particularly if baby animals are on hand. Sometimes the entire family hangs out at a good distance from the viewing window; binoculars will help you to get a good view of their adorable faces. Here Bomassa is clutching at his mother Jamani, while looking at the visitors.

Friday, October 12, 2012

No Dice on the Darts

When we left off last time, we told you Olympia had stolen a gorilla baby. Yes, Olympia, the dominant female in the Forest Glade enclosure at the NC Zoo, and mother to her own baby boy gorilla, had grabbed baby boy Bomassa and was feeding and keeping him as well her own sweet Apollo. She was doing a great job, mind you, but had zero interest in giving him back! Zoo personnel wanted to reunite Bomassa with his mother Jumani, seen here munching on lettuce, but knew that the standard route of shooting an animal with a tranquilizing dart was not advisable in this particular case. 
Jamani holds Bomassa while dining, just
a few days before her baby was stolen from her.
       Why was the tranquilizing dart a bad idea, to be avoided at all cost? It's because a good strong dose of medicine would be required to put Olympia to sleep long enough for zookeepers to remove that baby. Should Olympia make a sudden turn at the time of the dart shooting, that dart full of heavy duty sleep-inducing-stuff might just hit one of the tiny boy gorillas. At just about nine pounds, either baby would be overwhelmed by that kind of a shock, with possible fatal results. Therefore use of a dart was completely out of the picture. The zookeepers had to keep thinking, considering, and consulting; meanwhile Olympia was keeping both babies for many days running.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Two Mothers and their Gorilla Babies

Gorilla moms tend to hang out together. Here we see Jamani  holding her baby, Bomassa. Jamani is the larger of the two moms; seated behind her we see Olympia. She's got her baby cradled in her lap as well,  but we just can't see him. Olympia seems to be more private about motherhood than does Jamani, so it is a little trickier for zoo visitors to get a look at her son.
Jumani and Olympia hold their boys
Olympia sits peacefully  behind Jamani

Big trouble erupted a few days after this photo was taken.  One Friday morning, the zookeepers came in and noticed something  new. Olympia was cradling BOTH baby boy gorillas.  This put the zoo into quite a state of affairs. Both moms are nursing, both babies need their milk. The zoo wanted to get Bomassa away from Olympia and back into the rightful hands of his mother. This needed to happen fairly quickly too. As nursing mothers are aware, you can't go too long without nursing your baby, or your body just stops producing milk. Luckily,  Olympia was happily nursing and caring for both babies,  so Bomassa was in no imminent danger.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

New Gorilla Baby at the NC Zoo

Sweet gorilla baby Bomassa at the North Carolina Zoo

Bomassa was born August 4 to mother Jamani, a Western lowland gorilla who lives at the Forest Glade exhibit. He is the son of the silverback Nkosi, and he's got a half brother as well, born just a few weeks later.  I'll plan on posting here from time to time so we can all watch these precious babies grow.

Baby Gorilla Bomassa
Jamani tenderly holds the tiny hand of Bomassa on September 13.