Thursday, January 31, 2013

Gorilla Infanticide

Bomassa is safe from Gorilla Infanticide. Bomassa and Apollo and the rest of their troop are Western Lowland Gorillas, species name Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla. In the wild, they live near the equator in Africa, in the forested lowlands of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, the Congo, Gabon, Angola, and perhaps the Democratic Republic of the Congo. At one point, they were found also in Nigeria, but now are extinct there, due to agricultural and industrial pressures on land which formerly provided the appropriate habitat. 

With black skin and no tails, the western lowland gorilla grows to be a very large animal, with the males reaching some 400 pounds and a height of about five feet eight inches or so. As we have mentioned right here in this blog, the females are only about  half the size of the males. The female chooses to mate only with the largest strongest male available, in order to protect her young. When the silverback of the troop is inevitably displaced by a younger, bigger, stronger male, the newcomer will sometimes begin his reign of the troop by snuffing out any nursing babies.  Lactating mothers can't get pregnant; the usurping male can increase his chances of being able to breed by killing the kids.  Bomassa, secure in the NC Zoo, is not going to have to experience that fate, thanks to the carefully managed Species Survival Plan. No additional grown males will be moved in to the Forest Glade.  Bomassa and his brother will continue to live undisturbed,  in the troop led by their own genetic father Nkosi, until they are about ten years old, at which point they will very probably be placed at another zoo, either to lead their own troops, or to join a bachelor troop.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nkosi, Jamani and Bomassa

Nkosi the Gorilla is ever mindful of what is happening with his baby boys. In this photo he has just arrived to make sure all is well with Bomassa who is being held upside down by his mom, Jamani. Nkosi usually won't hang out long; he just kind of ambles over and checks in and then roams off in another direction. Bomassa, the older of the two baby boy gorillas new to the zoo this past year, will be six months old on February 4, 2013.

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Nkosi, left, looks over the shoulder of Jamani as she cradles Bomassa

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Don't Fall Off your Mother

Those gorilla baby feet are working hard. If you look closely when you go and visit the baby gorillas at the NC Zoo, you find out the babies don't have it so easy. Human babies spend a lot of time being held by their moms, by their carseats, by their strollers, by their dads, by their big brothers and big sisters. They just kind of glide through life for a few months.

For gorilla babies, things are different. Sometimes the gorilla mom will hold the baby in her arms, yes. But for a very large part of the day, the baby gorilla is on the back of the mother and hanging on tightly so as not to fall off as the mother saunters around looking for food. This is from a very young age, too. Bomassa has been hanging onto the fur of his mother Jamani for months and months now and he is not even six months old yet. Here you can see Jamani tenderly reaching for Bomassa's hand, in preparation for lifting him off her back so that she can hold him. But see that adorable little foot of his? He has his toes curled up and actively grabbing onto her long fur. Even when they are sleeping, gorilla babies work hard to stay on top of their moms.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Nesting Habits of the Gorilla

Baby gorilla Bomassa hugging the furry warm arm of mother Jamani in their nest for the day

Zoo Lights at the Smithsonian National Zoo 
turned out to be a terrific chance to observe something I never get to see at the zoo in North Carolina: gorillas by night. The place is a colored lights wonderland during certain nights of December, and a few of the buildings are open, among them the Great Ape House. True, one can never get enough lights at Christmastime, but even so, I took a break from the lighted trees dancing to The Nutcracker Suite and other tunes,  to go in and have a peek at the gorillas. And would you believe, they were all sleeping!  The enclosure in DC is a series of very large cages, each open to the next. By day, the gorillas roam freely from one to the other. Each cage is dominated by a massive climbing structure made out of cement posts fashioned to look very much like the branches of trees. Stretched among the branches are thick straps of heavy material woven together almost like gigantic hammocks. And that is where the gorillas sleep, curled up and comfy,  some all by themselves, and some  cuddled together. There is straw on the floor and on the hammocks; dozens of mice dart back and forth looking for food.

Gorillas sleep about thirteen hours a night and they nap during the day, resting for several hours during the hottest part. In the wild, they build new sleeping nests every night. Sometimes they build those nests directly on the ground, but often they build platforms in low trees by tying together networks of vines. The hands of the gorilla  are amazingly agile and with their considerable strength they can easily tear apart vines and remove small branches from trees.

For gorillas in captivity, it's much the same: the gorillas need to nest and they need new nesting material each day. The fresh material helps them avoid incubating a place for parasites to flourish.   At the North Carolina Zoo, the keepers check out the enclosure each morning, cleaning it up and scattering food about. They also bring  in fresh straw for gorillas to use as they see fit.  

When the gorillas enter the enclosure, the first thing they do is to find and eat some food. Then they'll sit down and have a rest and eventually they will pick up great piles of straw and lay those piles by the wall so they have a nice sheltered place to take a nap. Sometimes Jamani in particular, will work on that straw for a long time to get it just right. Who can blame her? Why not manipulate your surroundings as best you can, so as to be as comfortable as possible.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gorilla Mothers

Gorillas can be affectionate
For all the trouble Jamani and Olympia have had, they get along pretty darn well, often resting right next to each other, nursing and holding their babies.  Some days, it is cold enough that you can imagine they are simply trying to keep warm. But even when it is warm out, the moms often  hang out fur touching fur.

Jamani holds her head while Olympia, cradling Apollo, looks on

I rarely see Acacia joining in. Customarily, male Nkosi  is off on his own in one area of the Forest Glade, and Acacia, who does not yet have a baby of her own, not yet anyway, is off in another direction passing the time by herself.

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How Gorillas Walk

Why do Gorillas Walk on All Fours?
I can't get over the length of the arms of the babies at the zoo. Baby gorillas are going to grow up to walk most of the time on all fours, and this is possible because of those long arms.  Some would say that gorillas have long arms because they walk on all four limbs, but no. It's more likely that they find it comfortable to walk on all  fours because their arms happen to be long, and their hands happen to be big. And what an animal is comfortable doing due to his body shape, an animal will do.

As we have pointed out before in these pages, gorillas can walk on two legs for short distances. Songs of the Gorilla Nation  describes a rainy day on which some of the gorillas at the Seattle zoo avoided the mud to the greatest extent possible by walking on two legs instead of squishing all their four limbs through the mud. This way they had less mud to clean off.   Their feet got dirty but their hands stayed clean. Just another indication of the intelligence of the amazing species we call Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Apollo the Baby Gorilla Adoring his Mom

Apollo and Bomassa are still doing well
I normally get out there to the zoo about once a week to check on the boys, but this holiday season has been crazy busy.  I have missed a few visits and I have missed making a few posts. However, I did manage a quick visit last week and found the moms and the babies huddled together in the straw trying to keep warm. Western lowland gorillas are native to the rainforests of central Africa, where it tends to be a little warmer than the typical North Carolina winter day. So on very cold days, the animals in the Africa part of the zoo might be kept inside. On this day, it was animal's choice, so we were lucky to see them.  Apollo is now crawling away from his mom a few steps, but here in this shot he is gazing up at her in his adoring way.