Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Would You Let Your Sixteen Month Old Climb this Structure?

Baby gorilla climbs alone!

Bomassa has been climbing for months now, and Apollo started not long after. But here's something I had never seen before!  Little 21 pound Apollo is at the top of the structure, and mother Olympia is nowhere to be seen. She is not on the structure. She is not seated at the bottom of the structure, she is not anywhere around. She is not looking, she is not concerned.  She was resting under the shelter. It was a rainy day and a bit chilly, so she was spending a good part of the day curled up and keeping warm. Apollo had plenty of energy and was tired of lying around, I guess. So he headed over and bounded right up, and just kept right on going until he got to the very top.

See the raindrops dripping off the log in the picture below? Don't worry, it's probably not slippery. That structure is built to be safe under all conditions. But what a terrific training ground for the babies. It provides some challenges, and obviously mother Olympia has faith in her sixteen month old boy to let him climb when she is not right there watching.

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Look at Apollo's face as he works hard to hang on to the log. 

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

North Carolina Zoo Closed Today

The North Carolina Zoo is closed one day a year, and this is it, so if you're on your way out, you might want to turn around now. If you were going to go and visit the baby gorillas today, however,  they would look a little something like this, only a smidge bigger. These photos were taken a few weeks ago, but baby gorillas really don't grow all that fast. Enjoy!  Merry Christmas!

Apollo looking cute

More baby gorilla photos here

Bomassa and his big brown eyes

Sunday, December 22, 2013

How Long Do Baby Gorillas Nurse?

Baby gorillas need their moms for quite a long while. 

At the North Carolina Zoo, Apollo and Bomassa were both nursing when I visited recently. Nursing seems to be particularly comforting to them on a chilly rainy day, and they will most likely continue to nurse until they are a good two years of age. They may not give it up until they get close to three years old.
Bomassa takes a nice long drink at the age of 16 months
Jamani looks around as her son snuggles close

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why are some bales of hay rectangles and others round?

Hay bales? Who knows and who cares? Baby gorillas don't. They just like to roll around in the stuff. Here's Apollo, having a little fun. Just now finding us? If you've missed one or two entries, you can catch up on Apollo by clicking here for about a dozen or so articles about the little tyke.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How Can you Replace a Silverback?

That's a tall order. Finding a new silverback is particularly hard when the individual in question was as popular and loving as Nkosi, dad to Apollo and Bomassa.  As you'll recall, Nkosi was overwhelmed by and died from a massive bacterial infection just after the boys turned a year old. Things appear to be going well at the North Carolina Zoo now, and everyone is getting along pretty well. But it's not natural for female gorillas to live together and raise their baby boys absent a silverback. Zoos try very hard to replicate the conditions found in the wild, and therefore, it will be important to find a mature adult male at some point, and bring him to the zoo to join the troop. As of now, the timing has not been decided, but research is underway.

Unreplaceable! Nkosi gave a ride to his son Apollo. A very rare occurrence among silverbacks

Many factors will go into this decision, including genetics, temperament, age, availability and more. In order to preserve the option of further breeding, it will be important to bring in a male unrelated to at least some of the females. You can see by looking at the family trees of all the NC Zoo gorillas, that this was taken into account in the past. Acacia Gorilla's family tree shows every one of her forebears, all the way back to those gorillas originally brought in from the wild.  We've already done a tree for Bomassa, and one for Apollo. Each of those, in turn, incorporates the family tree of their father, Nkosi, and also of their respective moms. 

If you look at all three charts, which you can do right here in this set at Flickr, you will find no repetitions whatsoever, other than of course, the fact that our little gorilla boys Apollo and Bomassa share their paternal side. The three female gorillas at the North Carolina Zoo are not in any way related to each other, but more importantly, none of them was related to Nkosi, who was brought in specifically for babymaking! Careful planning went into making sure that no inbreeding would result from any of the potential matches. But there are other considerations, as well. For example, all the gorillas in the reconstituted troop need to be able to get along well. It will take quite a while for the NCZoo and the volunteers at the Gorilla Species Survival Plan to find the right silverback. No matter who they settle on, he will never truly replace the beloved Nkosi, but hopefully things will go well for all concerned.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Apollo Beats his Chest

Apollo Gorilla of the North Carolina Zoo, is not quite fifteen months old in this recent photo, yet he's feeling particularly frisky. At the very same time that he's beating his chest, he's got his left foot wrapped around a big stick. At the end of that stick are about a dozen twigs full of leaves. He keeps taking that branch and motoring over towards Bomassa. He then threatens his big brother with the branch.

Even baby gorillas have oversized hands

It looks something like what Jane Goodall describes when she speaks of a chimpanzee shaking a branch one of his fellow chimps. It all seems to be part of establishing dominance. But at fifteen months old? Interesting to see this happening when the boys are both so young. Don't miss Deborah Meyers' article about the boys which ran recently in the Chapel Hill News and the Raleigh News&Observer.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Bomassa's enjoying a good meal of dried greens. Here's hoping the same (and more!) for you and yours this Thanksgiving holiday.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tormenting Big Brother

When I looked in at the zoo recently, Apollo was tormenting his brother every chance he got. Remember, the boys are only three weeks apart-yet one is the bigger and the other is the elder. The weight check at the end of October showed Apollo to be at about 21 pounds, about three pounds heavier than big brother Bomassa. Lately, Bomassa seems to cling to his mom Jamani much of the day. When Apollo comes over, Jamani patiently pushes that little squirt away! She might hold Apollo's little leg with her big hand and thus immobilize him for awhile so she and Bomassa can get just a little peace. She's a tired mom and just wants to rest! That's hard to do, when Apollo is constantly plaguing big brother.

Sometimes she even swats at Apollo to drive him away. She swatted pretty hard about eight times before Apollo ran away scared and stayed away for a long time. But then an hour later he was back to grabbing at Bomassa. Jamani had come to the sheltered window with Bomassa to curl up in the straw and have a nap. Fearless Apollo came over and picked up Bomassa's toes and started to bite them. He also would stick his nose down in Bomassa's private area. Might have been sniffing, might have been biting! Hard to tell when you can't get a good view. Olympia (Apollo's mom), meanwhile, sits unconcerned and nonchalant; she doesn't get involved in the boys' interactions at all.

Most interesting of all, the wheelbarrow pose, as seen above. Twice Jamani picked up Apollo's legs which left the one year old gorilla having to support himself on his arms. Can you see Bomassa hanging onto his mother's back, while Apollo kicks at Jamani's face? The social dynamics at the zoo lately are fascinating!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Baby Gorilla Gets Aggressive at the Zoo!

Both the gorilla brothers we write about here are little sweeties, but they are each toying around with their forays into showing their strength. Right now, it's Apollo's turn. Last time I visited, I saw him beating his chest for the first time. Bomassa had started this back in April, so it's nice to see Apollo catching up. Come to think of it, I have not seen Bomassa beating his chest much lately, and I never did see him do it proficiently. Apollo doesn't either. He just kind of throws his arms around and sometimes his big hands land on his chest, and sometimes they don't.

But now, Apollo is also coming to the glass and banging! I have seen one of the adults do this a few times. Jamani will sometimes get irritated with all the laughter and noise. In reaction, she will stand up on two legs and steady herself there for a minute or two about 15 to 20 feet away from the glass, and then CHARGE! She comes running, one arm up in the air, and gives that glass a good whack with her massive open hand. Just one. And then she goes off into the bamboo weed cover so she can find a little peace. But Apollo is now coming to the glass and pounding away with his own little oversized hand, palm open, many times in a row. This does not seem to be in answer to any provocation. Sometimes there are visitors in front of him, and sometimes there are none. He might just be experimenting and entertaining himself. When it was just me and Apollo, he was not pounding at the glass I was standing at. He was down a couple of panels, banging over there.

Much of this aggression gets pointed at big brother. Here comes Apollo now, hand raised to his brother's mother. Bomassa is hiding behind mom, so you can't see him in this shot. Jamani does not like to see Apollo getting after her son so much. She is so big, she is easily able to shoo him away. For the time being, anyway. On the other hand, Apollo still has his moments when he looks purely angelic.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Baby Gorilla Waves at the Crowd

I stopped in at the North Carolina Zoo on Friday and found Bomassa Gorilla being extra friendly with the visitors. He stood on his mom's leg and looked up at the adults and the peoplekids. Weighing in now at only about eighteen pounds,  this baby gorilla is nonetheless already stronger than the keepers. When full grown, he may be as much as five times stronger than a typical adult human male. There are plenty of theories about why our fellow apes are so much stronger than humans. One says that it might be because we devote so much of our energy and muscle architecture to fine muscle control, which apes have less need of.  Read here about how chimps would make lousy guests in a china shop and then go over and join our Facebook page for more cool articles about primates other charismatic megafauna.

Bomassa Gorilla says Hi

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Tumbling Gorilla

Here's Bomassa, rolling over and falling off his mother's back. Usually he takes a different approach to his dismount, but it's important to try new things. I wonder how his elders did it. Perhaps the exact same way. Some mannerisms do run in the families of gorillas. For example, Olympia holds her right hand up to her ear as though she is talking on a cellphone.  She does it every day, but it's not an indication of an infection or any other discernible problem. I am told that some of Olympia's relatives do the same exact thing! And speaking of relatives and other ancestors,  you can find out some information about Bomassa's grandparents and great grandparents at the Pinterest board about his lineage. We've not managed to illustrate every enchanting character in the bunch,  so by all means, if you know of photos of any of Bomassa's great or great-great-grandparents, do post a link here in the comment section and let us know where to look. We definitely need Trib and Bwana, and I am not entirely sure we have a good picture of Millie Christina yet. She was mother to the very first gorilla ever born in the US.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can Gorillas Climb a Pole?

You bet! Both Apollo and Bomassa have been observed climbing up a metal pole which is part of structure people call the tree. Here's the younger brother, on his way up the pole. Once he gets up there, there's nowhere to go. I think the pole might have something of a ceiling over it. So he climbs up. And he climbs down, and he climbs up, and he climbs down. Olympia, Apollo's mother, sits nearby picking seeds out of the straw and eating them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gorilla Grooming

Many of the primates spend a lot of time grooming. If you stand and watch lemurs for any length of time, or chimpanzees, or particularly baboons, you are going to see them arranging themselves in groups and reaching out to stroke the fur of whoever is sitting nearby. Grooming helps with the removal of dirt, parasites, dead skin, insects and tangled fur. So that's a big part of the reason you see baboons etc. doing a lot of grooming. Not so with the gorillas at the zoo where I visit baby gorilla brothers Apollo and Bomassa. I have been there just about every week over the past year, but I don't see the grownups grooming each other. Nor have I observed any gorilla grooming at other zoos. None. Yes, the moms will lovingly stroke the fur of their babies every now and then.  That's what Jamani is doing below. So you will occasionally see a little mother to child grooming, but that's about it.

You've perhaps seen videos showing grooming among the wild mountain gorillas. That's the species of gorilla made famous when Diane Fossey studied them for many years. One of the zookeepers told me that gorilla grooming in the wild happens with some frequency, though perhaps not as much as with some of the other primates. I wonder if that is the result of gorillas being so big, and being leaf eaters. There is some evidence that grooming behavior, beyond being purely for purposes of hygiene, may also help a lower ranking animal get the support of a higher ranking animal. But in the gorilla world, perhaps the idea of support is not so crucial. The gorilla is king, with no natural predators to worry about, so they don't have to protect one another from predation. The silverback leads the group to a good feeding spot each day. There is not a lot of competition for food, because gorillas eat a diet of leaves, branches and bark, which are omnipresent in the thick forests they call home, so they don't have to work with each other to get better access to food. The smaller primates have a much tougher time protecting themselves and finding food. So it would not be surprising that they would put more energy into building alliances, and to the extent that grooming is part of gaining the good graces of a higher ranking individual, smaller primates are likely to have a very strong reason to engage in grooming behaviors. So that's my theory for why gorillas in the wild groom less frequently than other primates.

But in zoos, there is very little mutual grooming among gorilla adults. So we have another question which is why is there less gorilla grooming in zoos, than in the wild. I have a theory about that. Do you?

A link to the Dark Side

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Here Comes Trouble

Apollo Gorilla is on the march! Here he comes, barreling toward the shelter. It was a drizzly, cool day on Monday when I went out to visit the boys, their moms, and their Auntie Acacia. Everyone was doing well and getting along nicely. Which is to say, that Acacia was amusing herself , Jamani found herself a good place to rest and was cradling or carrying her little boy Bomassa, and Apollo was sticking close to Olympia for the better part of the day.

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The feeding happened right on schedule at 11:30, which meant carrots, peppers and lettuce came hurtling over the wall, and nice big branches of succulent browse found themselves stuck into the fence where the gorillas could easily reach them. A handful of carrots bounced right in front of me. Apollo, now almost fourteen months old,  perked up and came running after those treats of orangy goodness. These boys have to be quick to get something as delicious as a carrot before their mamas see it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How to Get a Great Zoo Photograph. Part 3

Part Three. The features.

You're at the zoo and you want to come home with some decent photos, but you're not exactly a world class nature photographer. Never mind that! With a few tips, you can take some pretty good shots. In Part One we talked about how to maximize your chances by staying a long time and going often. In Part Two we talked about how important it is to pay attention to the light. And now, we let you know what to focus on. One of the reasons we find animals so intriguing, is that many of them have fascinating distinguishing features. For the male lion, it's that massive mane, for the zebra, it's the stripes, for the flamingo it's the mile long legs. Observe the animal for a while. Think about what you find appealing. Is there a feature which sets the animal apart from all others? If so, go ahead and try to find a way to make that part of the animal especially prominent in the photo.
Here in this photo of a baboon reaching for a rope,  what I found striking was the length of the arm, so I made sure to focus on that. When I went to visit  Jojo, the silverback gorilla of the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, it was the pose that was so compelling. So I made sure to take a full shot of Jojo, demonstrating how a silverback will perch on his haunches.   And on another day, when I was photographing a mother pig and her piglets, what was most amazing was how tiny those babies are in comparison, so when one of the tiny piggies went up and nuzzle his mom, snout to snout, I was sure to capture that.
Sometimes it's a little more subtle that all that, but you can still create a good photo.  Apollo Gorilla is being completely adorable just resting on the log above, but it's hard to zero in on a distinguishing aspect. So  I made sure to focus on those eyes of his. Having visited, photographed and blogged about these baby gorillas constantly for over a year now, it's surely obvious to you that I find just about anything regarding a juvenile gorilla to be completely captivating. But the eyes, in particular,  are where the gorillas show so much humanity. I wanted to be sure to show them off  as best I could.
With gorillas, the eyes are a challenge, especially as they get older. Gorillas have a prominent forehead which protectively juts out over their eyes.  Most of the time, that brow ridge creates a dark shadow. To get a photo where gorilla eyes are clearly visible in all their glory, I generally have to stand there waiting until the animal turns face to sun.  That's just what Apollo has done here, with the result that his face is nicely lit up. When you are at the zoo, be patient. Watch the animal. Think about what makes this animal special, and then get ready to snap that shutter just at the right time to capture what you find so endearing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gorilla Brothers, to Your Corners!

After tussling with each other a few times during the day, the two baby boy gorillas stood up, and moved away from each other, and that was that. They were all done knocking each other around,  and done showing those teeth and they went on to other activities. Like sitting near their respective moms. And maybe nursing a little too.
Here we see Bomassa looking bigger and taller on the right. He weighs a little less at the moment, but don't count him out just yet. His mother is substantially taller than is Apollo's mom, which might give him the genes to grow into the larger silverback. And when will that happen? Male gorillas typically reach maturity around eleven or twelve years old, and that's when their backs begin to silver. Follow ZooMuchInformation on Facebook for more.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Baby Gorilla Fight

Here's another look at how Bomassa and Apollo are tussling with each other these days. On this particular day, little brother Apollo seemed to have had the upper hand much of the time. The boys got together three or four times during the day, for short periods of scrapping; Apollo was very often on top of the baby gorilla pile! Here you see Apollo with his hand on Bomassa's head, appearing to be in charge. Though he's a little heavier than his slightly older brother, the boys are well matched and enjoy each other immensely.

What happens when gorilla brothers get older and are reunited after a they are apart for awhile? Here's a story about just that. These young gorilla men Kesho and Alfie, both born at the Dublin Zoo, clearly never forgot each other, even after a three year separation.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Baby Gorilla Gets a Boo-Boo

Apollo and Bomassa wrestle in the weeds, 

baring their teeth. They are fighting, but they don't mean it. They're having fun while they are getting stronger and developing their self-protection skills. Here you see Apollo encircling his big brother's head with his arm. Later when I got a close-up view, I could see that Bomassa had a little bit of a scratch on his head, complete with fresh blood.

We can expect more and more of the same, as the gorilla boys get older. Here are some photos of considerably older Mountain Gorillas, still juveniles, knocking around with each other in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Apollo and Bomassa are a different species, they are Western Lowland Gorillas. But this mock fighting among the youth in gorilla troops seems to be natural to all species of gorilla.  It's just part of growing up.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Where the Wild Things Are

Better Climbing Skills

Bomassa has been working on his climbing skills and is becoming a master.  Not too long ago, he tried but was completely unable to climb the rock you see below in this photo. At that point, his mom had to help him. Now he and his brother can do it all by themselves. Last week, they spent close to an hour climbing the rock, and jumping off again. It's about four feet high, and they were having fun pouncing on each other from the perch.  Adorably cute! But the best part was when Bomassa evoked a famous illustration from Maurice Sendak's book Where the Wild Things Are.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

How to Get a Great Zoo Photograph on a Rainy Day

Part Two: The Light

Last time in our series, we mentioned that to get a great zoo photograph, the first step is to be there. This time we tell you not to be afraid to be there on a cloudy or a rainy day. The skies were about to open up when I took this photo of Olympia and Apollo when I visited at the North Carolina Zoo.  In fact, I only had about sixty seconds, because the minute the rains poured down, Olympia was off like a shot, Apollo stowed safely on her back. In conditions like that, she trots off to the wall, where she gets some protection from a bit of an overhang. Gorillas are not thrilled about getting wet!

Apollo lolls around in the lap of Olympia

Most people with a camera in hand tend to wish the sun would just come out already and light everything up. But I  have found the opposite works well with zoo photography. The thick blanket of clouds we had that day served to take the edge off of the light, surrounding the gorillas in a gentle glow. No harsh light from a bright unfiltered sun, means no harsh shadows on the animals. The features of the animals will not be chopped up by uneven light and shadow, but will appear in their most natural aspect. The light will be nice and soft. Additionally, under heavy cloud, plants seem greener than they do under full sun, and rich greenery makes for a fantastic background to show off any animal. So next time you are taking photos at the zoo, don't make such a sad face when the sun tucks behind a cloud. Photography in soft light conditions can give you spectacular results.

Work fast when the rain is coming

On the other hand, be quick, because many animals are going to go and seek shelter in the rain. Olympia scooped up her baby and scaled this rock skillfully and quickly when those drops came out of the sky. If you are worried about your camera getting wet, you can have someone hold an umbrella over your head as you shoot. If you are working alone, and have your camera set on a tripod, you can wrap it in a rain sleeve. But I have had mixed results with those. It's hard to get your hands inside to operate them. The sleeve has collected some water, and you don't want any of those little pools draining right on to your camera. So instead, I just throw a plastic table cloth over the entire set up and I crawl under there with the camera. Disposable oblong party table cloths are nice and big, and are available in drugs stores for a few dollars a piece.
You can just make out the raindrops which drove Olympia away

Monday, September 9, 2013

Gorilla Family Trees for North Carolina Zoo

Here are the complete family trees of Bomassa and Apollo, the boy gorillas at the North Carolina Zoo. In the case of Apollo, if you wanted to visit his mother, you would of course find  her (Olympia) with Apollo, at the North Carolina Zoo. His maternal grandmother Mia Moja lives at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky. And you can still  visit Apollo's maternal great grandmother Machi, if you just travel to the Knoxville Zoo. And would you believe that Apollo's great-great grandmother Choomba is still with us as well? She's at Zoo Atlanta!

Back before that, we just don't know. At the top of each birth line, you see the names of the wild born gorillas in the lineage of the boys. We probably don't have any information at all going back further than this. It's doubtful that records were kept. We might not even know what countries the distant ancestors were found in. It was quite a shady business.  These days we no longer remove gorillas from the African bush for the purpose of exhibiting them in zoos. Most zoos refuse to get involved in the gorilla trade; they simply don't buy gorillas from the wild and instead rely on breeding programs, such as the one which resulted in the successful births of Apollo and Bomassa. At one time, zoos would purchase gorillas young enough to handle and have them transported from Africa. Thank goodness that is over. It was a gruesome endeavor, which you can read more about here in this article about Colo. By the way, as stated in a prior blog post, Colo, great grandmother to both our boys is also still with us. She and their grandmother Toni can both be found in Columbus, Ohio.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

RIP Nkosi Gorilla

Nkosi Gorilla, silverback and troop leader at the North Carolina Zoo has died in the prime of life. As you will recall, Nkosi did not come out last Monday, and was being kept under observation behind the scenes. I was not aware then of what was happening, and details continue to be unclear, but now the Zoo's Facebook page has this:
According to the Zoo’s Curator of Mammals Adrian Fowler, Nik became ill more than a week ago with symptoms that included headaches and loss of appetite. His condition had “waxed and waned” over the ensuing week until early Sunday morning when he “finally collapsed,”...
Things got so bad that euthanasia become the only option. There will be a necropsy, and hopefully we'll have answers as to what went wrong with this handsome, young, strong male. Born on  26 September, 1991 at the Columbus Zoo, Nkosi was not quite 22 years old and is survived by his mother Toni, daughter to Colo, the world's oldest living gorilla, and the first gorilla ever born in captivity. He was father to three, our own Bomassa and Apollo, both just one year old, and Columbus's Dotty, born in 2004. The boys are going to have a rough time without their daddy.

Seen below, Nik, as he was called by the keepers, consoled Olympia, tenderly stroking her face,  as she held Apollo after a scuffle. The jobs of the silverback are to breed, to protect his ladies and their babies, and to keep the peace within the troop.  His absence leaves a huge hole in the fabric of the troop. Nik's kindness, patience and magnificence in fulfilling his duties is unmatchable.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Gorilla Family Tree: Apollo

Apollo Gorilla's got a fantastic set of genes!  

North Carolina's Zoo's littlest sweetie turned one year old just a few days ago, on August 31, 2013.In his honor we have started his family tree board  over at Pinterest. So far we've got pictures of Apollo's mother Olympia, his father N'kosi, and his great grandfather Ozzie (Ozoum), who happens to be the oldest living male gorilla in the entire world!  How do we know? Because we have a complete tally of the vital statistics of all the gorillas in zoos. As for the thousands of gorillas living in the wild, their lives tend to be some ten to fifteen years shorter. They don't have the benefit of veterinary care, and they are subject to the horrors of the bushmeat trade, as well as loss of habitat.
Apollo Clutches Mother Olympia Gorilla

Follow along with  The Apollo Ancestors Board as we try to fill it up with pictures of all of Apollo's known grandparents, great grandparents, and great-great grandparents. We'll be picturing such Gorilla Greats as Atlanta's famous Willie B, and the inimitable Colo, first gorilla ever born in a zoo and oldest gorilla on the planet. Colo was born back in 1956 and it may be hard to find photos of her parents Millie Christina and Baron Macombo. If you can point us in the right direction, say the word.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What Baby Gorillas Eat

The baby gorillas at the North Carolina Zoo eat all the same things their parents like--salad veggies and fruits. Bomassa is a big fan of green pepper, and Apollo loves carrots. That's his dad's favorite. These items are cut into pieces and scattered about the area, along with celery and nutritious varieties of lettuce and other things.

Our baby gorilla boys love kiwi the best, but it's hard to get a photograph of a baby gorilla eating kiwi fruit, as that is a special treat reserved for training times.  At the North Carolina Zoo, training happens in view of the visitors, but right now it's hard for the visitors to get a closeup look at the training.

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The keepers use kiwi as a reward when the babies allow them to clip their nails or to do various things necessary during medical checkups. If you are at the zoo when one or more of the gorillas heads over to one of the little cave areas which has a big grate across it, they might be over there hoping for a bite of kiwi.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gorilla Roll Call at the North Carolina Zoo

If there was such a thing as gorilla roll call, it might have gone something like this yesterday morning, with the visitors calling the names, and the gorillas answering back:

Oh, yes, we see you slinking off near the wall.

All righty, no need to be so grouchy this morning.

Bomassa! Ah, sticking with your mom today, I see you clutching onto Jamani's back. Present. Good.

Acacia! Acacia! Where's Acacia? You can go ahead and take that lettuce in the straw, under the glass. Don't be so timid.

How about little Apollo? Right!  Apollo, we see you, your mom just scooped you up.
Present. Good, all ladies and babies accounted for.

And where's our big man?
N'kosi! N'kosi!
N'kosi!  Where's N'kosi? Where's our silverback today?

N'kosi did not come out Monday to join the rest of the troop. At first we visitors heard there might be some medical tests underway. This is quite routine and happens on a regular schedule. Excellent preventative care is administered by on site corps of veterinarians. But later we heard that N'kosi was under observation. That could mean just about anything. We are not sure if he was hurt, or if he had come down with an illness (gorillas can get colds and flu just as we do). Or maybe he had a little problem with some routine testing and did not bounce back right away. We just don't know. We did not observe any frantic activity among the zoo staff. A team of vets walked in, stayed awhile, and walked out again, quite calmly.  So it's probably not anything particularly worrying.

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But just try telling that to our Gorilla Ladies! They're not buying it. Monday, they acted as I have never seen them act before. They normally emerge in the morning, roam around for awhile in a very relaxed manner, pick up some food, and head over to an area prepared with straw. That's where they lie down and have a nap. Today, they did a very small amount of roaming, and never came over to lie down in the straw. Instead they stayed near the door for most of the day. That's the doorway  way back in the rear, from which N'kosi might emerge. During the short times that the ladies were roaming, they were skittish, nervous, looking over their shoulders at each other. The moms were keeping their babies very close, and the babies were making sure to stay close, too. Here's Apollo in the middle of a running jump. His mom is moving off, and he is building up the power to catch her and jump on her back so he can go too.

When the ladies came out, they did not seem very hungry and did not pursue their typical routine of gathering food. In fact at the end of the day, some of the lettuce lying near the window was still there, untouched. Jamani could be seen holding her son Bomassa, and walking a sideways crab walk, with her back to the wall as she headed toward one of the cave type doorways. Those are small areas where the gorillas can feel protected. Olympia normally lets Apollo roam nearby. But today she picked him up more than once and carted him off. Several times, she appeared to charge Acacia. When a gorilla charges, he or she runs past another gorilla. The idea is to scare, not to harm. And Acacia, when she wanted to go somewhere, would run. There seems to be a very big difference between an aggressive charge, and a scared evasive maneuver. On a normal day, our little Acacia would just walk calmly to her destination, but not Monday. No, Monday, she felt impelled to drum up the energy to run past the other ladies.  Acacia came over to the straw a few times, but never lay down. She would pick up some of the food which was lying there, but would look around very carefully before doing so.

Why? What was happening? Social structure. The gorillas depend profoundly on the social structure of the troop. The silverback is the lynchpin of that dynamic. In addition to breeding, and keeping his family members safe from outsiders, it's N'kosi's job to enforce peace within the troop. When he is not around, the ladies start to get nervous about interference from the other ladies. They just can't relax and be themselves when something is amiss. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if they are just worried about their Number One. No one can read the mind of a gorilla, but the fact that all the ladies spent most of the day quite close to the backstage doorway makes me think maybe they were missing him and wanted to stay as near as possible hoping to find out soon that N'kosi is all right.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Gorilla Kiss

Social structure is everything when it comes to gorillas. And Olympia is the dominant female in the troop at the North Carolina Zoo. So I was surprised to see her allowing her son Apollo to go over and play kissy face with Jamani! Mother Olympia Gorilla is not even concerned. For a moment there, it looked like she was going to reach out her hand and put a stop to this, but no. She drew back her hand and just sat there nonplussed as Apollo got closer and closer to his Auntie Jamani. Olympia does not tend to get too fussed about what either of the kiddies are doing.

More photographs of the baby gorillas.
Jamani of course has her own son, Bomassa, who has just turned a year old. And he is not far away. He is just out of view in this photo, right behind Jamani's head. He's just about to reach out his hand towards his little half-brother, almost as if to try and separate Apollo from his mom. At one point, Bomassa opened up that toothy mouth of his and got a little biting action in. But Apollo ignored it all, and just kept on communing with Jamani. Eventually they reached out and kissed by touching their lips together. This touching of lips is a frequent occurrence among our North Carolina gorillas. They are sweet animals. It's fun to be able to photograph the ways gorillas show affection for each other.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Eyelashes a Mile Long

Apollo was having a low key day last week when I went out to see him at the North Carolina Zoo, where I go weekly for my fix of cute baby gorilla photographs. He was busy with a couple of jobs, one of which was to point his finger and try to touch some of the beetles which had landed on the frame surrounding the glass. Bomassa came to help, but it was not working. No matter how many times the baby gorilla boys reached for those bugs, the beetles flew away. The two gorilla brothers were also fascinated with the slick that had formed when some rain had gotten onto the rocks under the overhang. Raindrops mix with the soil there. That makes a little mud that's fun to poke at and swish around. Baby gorillas are curious about the world, always investigating, always learning. In this photo, Apollo is looking down, doing one of those activities, not sure which. But I thought you would like to see how long this beauty boy's eyelashes are! 
Apollo Gorilla 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chillin' Gorillas

Baby Bomassa Gorilla and Silverback N'kosi hang out on a hot summer's day

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Slilverback Gorilla Gets a Present

N'kosi got presents at  the baby gorilla birthday party this past weekend. He is the dad, after all, so he was absolutely central to the fact that we have two adorable little baby boy gorillas at the NC Zoo. Here he is, looking like he is getting ready to catch one of his presents. He did not really catch it, he just let it fall nearby. Nothing was going to happen to that box. It's not like N'kosi had to worry that anyone would take it. His food is thrown directly to him, and the ladies' food is thrown to a different area. The lady gorillas know not to mess with the silverback's provisions. Sharing is not a strong suit of the gorilla!

Someone had wrapped up a bunch of boxes and in beautiful paper. The keepers threw them down into the area, from the feeding platforms. For a minute, we onlookers thought our gorillas were going to be feasting on Ritz Crackers and breakfast cereal. When the gorillas ripped off the paper, you could see the markings on some of the boxes and one of them said Ritz Crackers on it.  It's the perfect weight of cardboard for this purpose.  The gorillas ripped those boxes right apart and found their treats with no problem at all and gobbled them up.  Inside were some loose carrots (N'kosi's favorite) and some popcorn.

Photographs of Baby Gorillas 

Flashback! This article has photographs of both boy gorillas when they were very small. At that time, I was totally unable to tell them apart.

Follow Zoo Much Information over at Google Plus for the latest news. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Birthday Party for the Baby Gorillas

There was a big party at the zoo. Bomassa and Apollo both turn one year old this month, so the zoo had a big bash, complete with a lovely cake and streamers decorating the tree. The keepers came out and set everything up. And then the gorillas came out and had their party. You may have read about all this over at Bomassa's Twitter.

A huge crowd was on hand to watch the gorillas get their treats. 
Look at the lovely cake, made with ice and vegetables!  Nkosi the silverback came out last. Tell us in the comment section why you think that was!

Bomassa's having a go at the carrots. They're  a little hard to get at because they have been frozen in ice for a few days. It took a long time for zoo personnel to get ready for this party. 
The top of the cake featured a gigantic ONE carved of watermelon. Apollo worked at that for awhile and got a few licks here and there. 
Music was presented by Healing Force. It was not clear whether it would bother the gorillas, but they took no notice, while the crowd enjoyed it immensely.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Happy Birthday Bomassa!

And Good Job, Jamani

Today, August 4th, marks  the first birthday for Bomassa Gorilla, first gorilla born at the North Carolina Zoo since 1989. Jamani has done a terrific job with her son this entire year. Here they are, both enjoying their birthday cake at a celebration held yesterday.
Tomorrow look for more photos of the party right here. Follow Twitter for an alert.

Read all about Bomassa's ups and downs throughout the year. Here's a link to each post we've written about him here at his blog, the only blog chronicling an entire year of development of two baby gorillas.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

In which the boys get a car for their birthday

Buy the Kids a Shiny Toy and They'll Play with the Box

It's time for a birthday! Bomassa Gorilla turns a year old on August 4th.   So that means presents. You know how it goes with kids though.  We try to get them things in the colors and shapes they should love, but our curious and intelligent children would rather play with something more ordinary.
There's something red and yellow and new in the gorilla area these days. What's that look like to you? I am pretty sure it's a little red car. I could not get a great look. Is it driveable? I think it probably is, but I can't say for sure.

Anyway, Bomassa and Apollo were not the least bit interested. I never saw either one of them go anywhere near the thing last Thursday when I went out to visit them.  Yes, it would have been terribly cute to get a shot of Apollo or his big brother sitting in that car and trying to steer it around. In fact, that's why the car was there. People in charge of publicity for the zoo were kind of hoping to get a nice shot of the kids in the car, lol.

But alas, as you already know, our eager gorilla boys spent a good part of the day practicing their climbing skills.  And then Bomassa turned to the mud, of all things! Between a high tree to climb and gooey mud, a cute little car just did not stand a chance.

With our recent nonstop North Carolina rains, the Forest Glade exhibit is quite muddy in places. Bomassa found some mud which had begun to dry out a little and had a ball messing around with it. He combed through it, and picked it up and made it into clumps. As a matter of fact, as you can see at this link, he rubbed some in the hair on his head and just generally enjoyed himself.

Car? There's a car to play with? Never mind that, I've got mud!

Bomassa Gorilla and Apollo will have their  first birthday party this Saturday, August 3rd at the North Carolina Zoo. Come if you can, it's going to be a lot of fun.