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.