Thursday, June 27, 2013

Copperheads in the Gorilla Area at the North Carolina Zoo

A Snake or a Toy

It was a nice, calm morning on Tuesday, not too crowded, but a bunch of us were at the glass, appreciating the gorillas. Everyone but Acacia hung out for hours and hours right there at the covered overlook. The boys were having a grand time playing in the big black buckets, climbing in,  climbing out, tussling a little, but being very gentle. Usually they show a lot of teeth when they tussle, but Tuesday, they were just being good pals.  Suddenly, one of the kid visitors exclaims Hey, there's a snake! And sure enough there was, slithering right through the straw you see surrounding the bucket. This was just a little snake, a slender snake. From my distance, it looked pretty much like a garter snake or something. No big deal, it just did not seem like much of a problem.
Apollo, left, and Bomassa, playing before they notice the copperhead

The boys were fascinated; they peered down at that reptile from just a few inches away. Something new, something unusual, something moving around, seems like a good toy, after all, something to have some fun with.  So friendly Apollo hovered over the snake and sat on it!  I lost sight, but when Apollo got up, I couldn't see it any more. One of the keepers was right there observing all this. She did not see a yellow tip on the tail. That's one of the identifying marks of a young copperhead snake. So without that mark, she was not overly worried. But the head........the head was not a good shape. A harmless snake has a round snout, whereas any viper has a much broader head. This head seemed a little broad. So there was reason to be worried!

N'kosi came around the wall and took charge. I am not sure who first alerted him. It's possible one of the ladies--probably Olympia-- made a vocalization we could not hear. The adults were taking the situation seriously. With no panic or screaming, Olympia picked up Apollo and carted him a good fifteen feet away and sat facing the area where the snake was obviously still lying. Jamani stayed behind the bucket with Bomassa. Acacia had been off in the rear of the area and there she stayed, being very pregnant.  The majestic N'Kosi had quite a reaction!  He stared down that snake,  while not getting too close. And then he went away. But did he turn and go? Not on your life. Our N'kosi kept his eye on that snake the entire time, and slowly  backed away. None of us could  see the snake anymore......but N'Kosi kept going back over there to check out that snake. And each time, he must have still been seeing it, because he would carefully back away once again.  
Above, Apollo and Bomassa play, unaware of the danger.  Silverback N'kosi comes around the wall to check things out. Olympia, who may have alerted N'kosi to the presence of the copperhead,  grabs Apollo and takes him a safe distance away where they can watch the snake from a distance

The keeper mentioned that if the moms had seen this snake first, they would have immediately carted off those babies. But no, it was the babies who first noticed. So Apollo and Bomassa, who know nothing of the fangs and the poisonous tongues of snakes, were very much in danger. Why? Because it did turn out to be a copperhead, and because they did not have enough life experience to stay away.

Uwharrie Mountains Home to Copperheads

So that brings us to a question.......what does a zoo do to control the possibility of an encounter with a poisonous snake? At some zoos, there would be little chance of this. But the North Carolina Zoo, in the Uwharrie Mountains, happens to be the native habitat to numerous copperheads. There's no way of keeping native snakes out of the exhibits.  The animals simply have to learn. Olympia and Jamani and N'kosi clearly learned the snake lesson somewhere along the way, perhaps by an encounter with a snake bite from a harmless snake, or perhaps by observation. The boys are going to have to learn not to mess with snakes. Hopefully they can absorb this lesson vicariously,  and won't have to suffer a snake bite.  A bite from a harmless snake would be enough to ruin the day of one of our little sweeties, but a bite from a venomous snake could easily end in tragedy. Copperhead venom is not as potent as that of other snakes, but a dose of copperhead poison could kill when injected into a small gorilla baby body of only some fifteen pounds.
N'kosi watches that snake!

Proficient Reaction of Zoo Personnel Keeps the Baby Gorillas Safe

This time, since the keeper was on hand to observe this near disaster, she checked for that snake after most of us thought it had simply slithered away.  It hadn't.  She was not sure of the variety, but went to seek identification from one of the zoo's reptile experts. Before making the call, she had asked one of the volunteers to keep a close watch so the location of the snake would be known.  The snake expert arrived and confirmed the identification. That was definitely a copperhead! Next, the keeper went back to call those animals out of the area. She just called their names, and off they went, to safety. She checked Apollo carefully and found no evidence of any bite, thank goodness. Meanwhile, in went the snake expert, to place the copperhead in a bucket and relocate him to a different part of the park, far away from the animals. And that's the happy ending: due to the vigilance and expertise of the personnel at the North Carolina Zoo, the threat was removed immediately. But not before Apollo sat on a poisonous snake and lived to tell the tale.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In Which Our Curious Gorilla Boys at the NC Zoo Investigate a Venomous Snake

Yes, that's a copperhead and yes, Apollo, our beloved nine month old gorilla sat on it. This is worst thing to happen at the zoo since his big brother Bomassa escaped one night. Oh wait, that Bomassa escape story was a complete April Fools fib. This encounter with the copperhead wasn't any joke.  Details in our regular blog post on Thursday.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Baby Gorilla Swings on a Branch

Gorilla Jungle Gym

Here's Apollo upside down and swinging on a stick. This appears to be what's left of a small tree which once grew amongst the bamboo in the Forest Glade.  There is a big fallen log too, as well as a large gorilla jungle gym. Some zoogoers seems to think it's a tree, as it is made out of something that either is, or looks like tree trunks. It's perfect for adult gorillas who can climb up the logs, set like rungs of a ladder, but it's just a little too big to be interesting to the babies yet. Although one of the volunteers did mention that Bomassa somehow managed to climb all the way up one day and could not get down again. His doting mother Jamani went up after him and brought him back to safety.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Baby Gorilla Takes a Drink

There's a lovely stream running through the Forest Glade. That's where the gorillas live in the North Carolina Zoo. Here we see Bomassa leaning over to investigate and to take a little drink. The gorillas don't do a lot of drinking, however. Even in the wild, there is little need to drink water, as the kind of food which gorillas eat is very high in water content: leaves, wild celery, fruits of various kinds when they are in season.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Hands Off Motherhood Style

Olympia Gorilla is not too concerned when the boys start their roughhousing. Here she sits with her back to Apollo and Bomassa.  This is typical of her approach. She seems to assume they are going to know how to handle themselves, and is standoffish about it. In contrast, Bomassa's mother Jamani takes a keen interest in the interactions of the boys, watching them closely when they start to scuffle. She will let them go at each other for a good while, but she will always step in sooner or later and take hold of Bomassa and remove him from the equation, thereby stopping the action.
Infant gorilla Apollo raises his hand to half-brother Bomassa
At the moment, the boys are still staying put when they play with each other, sitting in one place and opening those big jaws of theirs and biting at each other. All these gorillas have little gashes here and there on their skin, it seems. Most of the time they are very gentle with each other, but every so often, a little something happens. And what do the zookeepers do about this? Nothing, really. Those skin abrasions need to heal on their own as would happen in nature. Were the keepers to apply bandages, the animals would just pick them apart anyway, so only in the case of a very serious injury would keepers bandage an injury to the skin.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Practicing to be a Mom

Every so often, Bomassa goes over and pays a visit to Acacia. She's a very sweet auntie to him. Pregnant, and due to deliver her very first baby some day this month or next, Acacia should be ready for motherhood. After all, she has recently observed the successful births of two baby gorillas and this ought to help her to know how to respond when the big moment comes.
Bomassa comes to see Acacia
Acacia herself was hand-raised, meaning that for one reason or another, when she was born in 1995 in Oklahoma City, her mother Fredrika was unable to raise her. Zoo visitors sometimes wonder if Acacia has any consciousness that she is about to have a baby. Surely in a second or third pregnancy, a mother gorilla would have an awareness, I would guess. But for the the first baby? They also are curious as to whether she feels left out of the party. After all, both of the other lady gorillas at the North Carolina Zoo have babies. Hopefully all goes well and soon Acacia will have a healthy baby of her own to care for.  Do you think it will be a girl or a boy?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Baby Gorilla Turns Nine Months Old

The Life of a Nine Month Old Gorilla at the North Carolina Zoo

Apollo Gorilla was born on August 31 of 2012, making this past Friday, May 31 his nine month old birthday.  Mother and baby are still doing absolutely great at the North Carolina Zoo.  On Thursday, we'll let you know just how rare that is.  But for now, you are probably wondering exactly what is happening in the world of a nine month old gorilla. Read on!

As you can see in the photo, Apollo still likes to spend plenty of time with or near his mom Olympia.  He will inch away from her to do some climbing. There are some small tree trunks he loves to cling onto as he sees just how high he can get. And he will take hold of two sticks of the bamboo growing in the brush and climb up between the two.  The bamboo is not very tall, because it's been hard to keep the gorillas out of there long enough to let some of the stalks grow big.  There are some grates which separate the gorillas from the zookeepers who tend to the needs of the animals and Apollo loves to climb on those structures!  He tenderly grabs hold of one rung with his hand, and will carefully wrap his toes around the lower wires and climb very patiently until he gets quite high.

Socially, he will go and see his brother Bomassa (who along with his mother Jamani, is also doing very well) and they will tussle with each other, showing teeth and batting at each other's heads and wrapping their arms around each other. I have not yet seen them chase each other, but that is surely coming. Just at the moment, Apollo is a little clumsy with his running. It's possible that he has not yet learned to keep his feet flat as he propels himself across the grass.  Apollo loves his daddy, Nkosi the Silverback, and that love is returned. On a few occasions, Nkosi actually picked up Apollo and gave him a little bit of a piggy back ride! 

And what does a baby gorilla eat? At nine months old, Bomassa and Apollo are still nursing, but not visibly. I have not seen them nurse in months, even when they are curled up in their mother's arms on a chilly day. But surely they are nursing at night. The moms are still lactating, that's for sure. There are times when you can see Olympia put her hand to her breast and take drop after drop of the sweet milk she is making.  Apollo will pick up peppers and eat that, and you've seen pics here of Bomassa eating celery and browse. They are pretty much on a diet of salad, branches, and bamboo. Both boys love kiwi, which is given as a treat when they have their training.  And a little while back, we showed you a picture of Apollo chomping down on a pretty yellow flower!

Do baby gorillas take naps? You bet. Both boys have times in the day when they get very sleepy. They will sleep on their mother's backs as the moms carry them from place to place, hanging on tightly to mama's fur all the while. And they will also curl up with their moms, especially when it's cold out. They might sleep then for a good hour, right in the middle of the day, when so many visitors have come to see them!

Speaking of visitors, one sweet little girl who was at the zoo Friday was telling her dad about how the gorilla moms put Pampers on the babies.  That was a cute concept, but no. Some gorilla babies DO wear diapers, if they have had to be removed from their moms. But not here at the NC Zoo. Everything is au naturel.   The boys must be pretty discreet about it, though, because I have never observed any evidence of either baby in the process.  The moms and the dad, yes.  The entire place gets cleaned out every day, so there is never much mess.

Recently both boys had their vaccinations.  They get shots pretty much like the shots that children get.  The moms were sedated slightly so that the boys could be tended to. Otherwise the moms would never have let their babies go for this treatment!  But the boys were fully awake, and needed to be held by two people each. Even at only some 15 pounds, they are extraordinarily strong.  Believe it or not they did not like the idea of getting shots. So there was some screaming. Nkosi was very upset at hearing the distress calls and paced nervously back and forth until the whole thing was over, and after,  he did not get his appetite back for awhile. But that's all in the past and all is well now.  We are so incredibly lucky to have two healthy baby gorillas at the NC Zoo.