Monday, July 29, 2013

North Carolina's Cutest Tourist Attraction

If you're on your way to North Carolina any time soon, you absolutely have to stop and see our baby gorillas! Our young boys Apollo and Bomassa are ever so fun to watch now that they're learning to climb. They are getting up sky high now. What you can't tell from this pic, is that Bomassa is hanging from the highest platform on the structure in the middle of the exhibit. The one everyone calls the tree. Scroll down to get an idea of the height of the tree.

Apollo is always struggling to keep up with Bomassa. Big brother is more daring, a little stronger, and definitely more adept and confident. That's why you see Bomassa way up high, and Apollo trying to follow! Apollo never did join his brother on those top branches. He's still timid yet.

Bomassa has been practicing climbing for ages, because his mother has allowed him the freedom. Reports from behind the scenes indicate that when mother and son are in their private quarters, Jamani is happy to let Bomassa climb on his own. She has blessed this activity for many months now, and he has gotten very strong. It used to be that when the gorillas would come out in the mornings, Bomassa would settle in to nurse from his mama and would go right to sleep. He'd be exhausted after a hard morning of climbing.

Jamani does not always stay right with Bomassa as he perches precariously atop the structure. Here above, he finds it convenient to put his foot on her face as he tries to stabilize himself.   You can see the entire tree below. I am guessing the very tops of the tree are a good 12 to 15 feet off the ground.

Bomassa does go up to the very top! I  don't think you would find too many people-moms letting their tiny tots climb up that high. But gorillas have special skills, uncommon strength, very long arms, and gigantic hands with lengthy fingers.  Besides, gorilla feet are shaped so as to function as an extra pair of hands, capable of grabbing on.

It can be scary to watch. But  Bomassa has it under control. Though strongly motivated he is very tentative. He inches along, little by little, grabbing one handhold and not letting go until he knows he's secure.

Below he's attached only at one point of contact and searches very carefully for another before he lets go.

When Bomassa summits Mount Tree, he hangs out where his mom is resting.

But that is not his goal so he does not stay long. Below you see our young blackback first put one foot down on the branch, and then he just lifts his last foot off the platform and gingerly moves forward. He is learning all about how long his limbs are, and what he's capable of. It's exciting to watch him discover his abilities! And yeah, that's his mom yawning in the photo immediately below. You can just barely see her open mouth on the right. She's not worried.  She believes in her son!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How Baby Gorillas Sleep

Here's little Apollo, being cradled by Olympia as he slumbers. 

All the gorillas get tired after their two lunches. There's a feeding at 11:30 and another at 1:30. After the animals make their rounds and hunt up some carrots and peppers and whatever else they would like to eat, they tend to retreat to the window area and curl up for a rest. Olympia lay down for a length of time, and then sat up and continued to hold her sleeping son. At nearly a year old, the boys are still sleeping with their mothers, enjoying the warmth of their bodies and the comfort of their arms. They will keep this up for a few years to come. No wonder Apollo was bushed today.  It had been a morning full of climbing.  Apollo's not quite as adept as big brother Bomassa, but he is not far behind. Both boys were deftly climbing the big structure today for quite a long time. Pictures Monday!
Apollo Gorilla Sleeps at the North Carolina Zoo

Monday, July 22, 2013

Apollo Playing with Daddy Gorilla's Colossal Hand

Last week,  after the big commotion upon the return of Acacia, little Apollo was thoroughly pooped when his mother finally calmed down and brought him over to the straw for a much needed rest.
For the next hour or so, he kept venturing over to one massive pile of silverback gorilla otherwise known as our own beloved N'kosi. Even the big boss himself had found the events of the day exhausting! For the longest time, Apollo just lounged on the straw, lying on his back, and reaching up to play.
Look at the size difference as Apollo reaches for a hand to play with
Just about all of Apollo's head easily fits in the hand of N'kosi, who tenderly curls his fingers round his son's head as Apollo winces
Apollo stays with his daddy for awhile. He's having a great time
Because of those opposable toes, you have to keep in mind that some of the four little hands you see here are actually feet!

As son of the dominant female, Apollo is thought to have some extra privileges with his dad. N'kosi is also very sweet and caring with Bomassa too, in my opinion, but Jamani was over in the bamboo while all this was happening, and Bomassa, as usual at his age,  was hanging out with her, so Apollo had Daddy all to himself.
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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Struggle for Dominance in the World of the Female Gorilla

Acacia Returns Strong and Healthy

but not without considerable  fanfare. What follows is a pictorial account of the roughest day I have ever observed at the gorilla home at the North Carolina Zoo. Recall that Acacia had a difficult labor Saturday July 6, with a caesarian section performed Sunday July 7. This resulted in the live birth of a beautiful baby boy gorilla, who unfortunately died two days later.  Afterwards, Acacia had a period of confinement, in order to give her time to heal.  This is the story of Acacia rejoining the troop.
Acacia returned Monday July 15, looking healthy after her surgery of a week earlier
Olympia, dominant female in the troop,  wasn't taking any chances.  Apparently she was determined to make sure that Acacia remembered who's in charge. Here she is, grabbing Acacia's head
Though not apparent here, Acacia is only a little bit of a thing.  She may be a tiny, as gorillas go, but she is not about to be intimidated by Olympia. So she raises her fist and prepares to give chase. This is far from typical for Acacia, who usually stays out of the way and keeps to herself
GO ACACIA! She bares those teeth and starts running,  and Olympia is off like a shot, baby Apollo clinging with all  his might
N'kosi, left gets involved now,  but Acacia, right, is unwilling to leave her defense up to him or to anyone. Smart girl, she continues to defend herself with a show of her teeth.
N'kosi grabs Olympia. He's fine with her fighting for top position over the other ladies, but he will not tolerate Olympia going too far.  One of his most important jobs is to keep the peace within his troop, and he's an expert
Olympia has calmed down, and N'kosi stays nearby for a little while,  to make sure she keeps it under control. The series of scuffles subsides now, after having gone on for  close to an hour, with screaming like I have never heard. This screaming is rare at the gorillas area!
During the entire time of the conflict, neither Bomassa,  nor Apollo, pictured here, ever once left the relative safety of his mama. They both remained firmly attached either to stomach or to back, even as the moms ran around chasing each other at top gorilla speed. What  a tiring ordeal for our boys! When Olympia finally came over to the straw by the window to lie down for a rest, Apollo limply crawled off her and just flopped. His eyes rolled back in his head, almost like he was about to faint. I've never seen that boy look so weary! Sometimes a baby gorilla will get badly hurt during a scuffle of this type; had Apollo  sustained some internal injury or something?  No.  I kept a watch and twenty minutes later our sweet Apollo was rested enough to get up and play again in the straw near his mother.
Hours later Olympia picks up Apollo and they go off near the wall. Jamani, left,  had been lying low during the commotion. She knows how to keep out of trouble. Even after all that time she continued to tread lightly. Usually she just strolls right on by Olympia when she wants to move to another part of the area. But not today. Jamani rose up on two feet and  ran past Olympia, keeping a wary watch on the dominant female,  just in case of another outburst.
Perhaps being the youngest, Jamani is the most submissive of the ladies, even though she is by far the largest of the three.  Bomassa, out of sight, is securely attached to Jamani's back as she hobbles by. Olympia, seated right, is unworried at this point. She has won the struggle of dominance once again. She is calm and confident and keeping Apollo safe.
Jamani gets by without incident and returns to calmly walking on all fours. You can see Bomassa now. N'kosi comes out of nowhere. He's noticed that Jamani is nervous and he is not happy; he stares down Olympia to make sure she is not going to try anything further
 After her reprimand, Olympia does not go off sulking. She gets up and walks right along with N'kosi, left.   That's the whole point of dominance. Olympia has fought for and has won the top spot. Her prize is that she and her son Apollo get to stay under the umbrella of the protection the silverback provides. But Bomassa, who knows that N'kosi has at heart the best interest of all the ladies and both his sons, looks ahead, perhaps wondering when the adults are going to calm down and get back to normal again.

Acacia is out of sight now. She has found a private little corner and is keeping to herself.  She had been the dominant female years ago, when it was just Acacia and Jamani and N'kosi living together. But when Olympia arrived from Atlanta, Acacia was immediately demoted.  And then, after her difficult labor and her surgery, and during her healing period, Acacia was apart from the troop and presented no threat to Olympia for an entire week. Olympia was clearly very nervous upon Acacia's return. Today Acacia has lost the perceived challenge, and  Olympia has reasserted her position.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Apollo Gorilla Comes to Visit Daddy

Silverback loves his babies!

N'kosi gets along great with his sons. The boys like to come over and hang out with their dad for a few minutes now and again.  Here comes that little ball of cuteness we know as Apollo, the son of the dominant female, Olympia. Due to this relationship,  the Gorilla Team and the Zoo Volunteers seem to think that Apollo is the favorite son. I am not entirely sure about that. I have seen plenty of affection directed towards big brother Bomassa, but here we see Apollo, at the age of not quite ten months, sauntering over. He looks like he is walking, though he is actually using all four limbs. Gorilla babies can walk pretty ably on two feet from a young age, and I guess that's because they have those marvelous long arms to steady them, so they can practice quite easily all by themselves. Anyway, Apollo walks on past and then N'kosi does what he does so often. He puts his finger near a certain region and then he smells it. In this way, N'kosi keeps track of the scent of both his boys.  Every time I have seen one of the boys with N'kosi, he has checked that aroma.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sad Days for Acacia Gorilla of North Carolina Zoo

Sweet Acacia Has Lost Her Baby
Acacia Gorilla, February 2013

Acacia  had such a long labor and required surgery.  I was afraid for the baby, and afraid for her, and then when the baby was born strong and healthy, and when Acacia quickly came out of anasthesia, there was such a sense of  relief. My next hope was she would recognize that baby as hers, and take naturally to mothering the little angel. How amazing that she got through all those hurdles. News articles seem to indicate that after zoo personnel bottlefed the baby for two days, Acacia was doing very well with the idea of being a mother and gladly accepted him in her arms. She's had plenty of good modeling from Jamani and Olympia, that's certain. And I know Acacia would make a fantastic mother, too. She is very gentle and loving, as is evident when she cuddles so tenderly with Bomassa.

But then sometime on Tuesday night, after the baby had been returned to Acacia, something terribly sad happened, and the baby smothered. It's not entirely uncommon for a mother gorilla, particularly a first time gorilla mother, accidentally to roll over on a very small baby such that he can not get air. This is what zoo personnel believe has happened. We are all  so very sad that this has been the end result for Acacia and the amazing little baby boy gorilla we have all lost.

It really is a very sad event. And yet, not uncommon. Even in the wild, gorilla moms sometimes roll over on their young in their sleep, and lose their precious babies to suffocation or to crushing.  Acacia will be hurting very badly over this, just as any one of us would upon losing a child. Gorilla mothers are known to carry their babies around with them after a death, sometimes for days, until they can come to grips with the loss. I do not know how Acacia is reacting just now because I've not yet been out to talk to zoo personnel and the volunteers. We may know more later, but for now, let's simply hold Acacia and her lost little dear in our hearts and wish them well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

JOY! A Healthy Baby BOY!

Saturday was a fun day at the Forest Glade at the North Carolina Zoo. The place was packed with families enjoying their Fourth of July weekend. Unfortunately the gorilla exhibit was closed, but the volunteers gave the good news to the waves of disappointed visitors as they kept arriving in greater and greater numbers. The family was unavailable because they were busy behind the scenes with Acacia, rallying her on as she labored to deliver a baby!  Visitors were delighted to learn all about the process, and made the connection-gorillas, at the time of a birth, are very much like people! Baby Bomassa was cuddling with Acacia and trying to make her feel better through her contractions. And N'kosi was standing guard and making sure no one bothered her. And by no one, we mean Olympia, lol. One of the volunteers was saying that Daddy N'kosi would be coming out any minute with a box of cigars to hand out. Or would it be carrots!  That's Nick's favorite, after all.
But it did not happen quickly at all. Poor thing. She had started labor at around 7:30 in the morning and was still in that condition at zoo closing time, and all the way through to Sunday morning. Things appeared to be going well, but eventually it was just taking too long, and she needed to be sent off for care. Zookeepers rejoiced when the sonogram showed a beating heart; preparations were made for surgery when it became clear this was the best option. Acacia is a very small gorilla and this being her first delivery, that birth canal was perhaps just a little too narrow for the simple delivery we all had hoped for.

Surgery was successful and Acacia was doing well when I left the zoo Sunday at closing time. She had woken up from anasthesia and was recovering well, as the mother of a healthy and strong baby boy. Naturally,  I have no mother-and-newborn photos to show you, because all this has happened behind the scenes. The hope is that Acacia will be able to nurse through her recovery and keep and raise the baby, but of course, she's got an incision now, which will need to heal. This won't be easy for her, but let's hope she can manage. It would break my heart if Acacia were unable to mother her own baby. In the gorilla world, the moms have increased status and seem to get a little more respect in the troop and  I would like to see Acacia follow that path. She's been a bit of a loner in all the time I have been visiting, often going off by herself when the two moms Jamani and Olympia are busy looking after Bomassa and Apollo. I have been hoping this birth would result in Acacia being able to join in the important work of mothering.
Acacia has been an affectionate auntie for Bomassa

Olympia might be willing to care the new baby if needed
And what if Acacia is unable to nurse the baby, or rejects the baby due to the pain of her incision? The good news is that Olympia, pictured here, has shown herself to be willing and able to nurse two babies simultaneously. She once absconded with Bomassa and nursed him AND her own baby Apollo for a full five days, after all.  And she is still nursing Apollo, so she's got plenty of milk. Zookeepers believe there is every chance that Olympia would immediately assume mothering duties for Baby Gorilla if Acacia refuses to do so.
Let's keep Acacia and Baby in our thoughts this week in these critical early days!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Bomassa Scales the Heights!

Major Milestone for Baby Bomassa Gorilla

Bomassa Gorilla of the North Carolina Zoo is climbing all the way up! Yes, that's our boy, all the way up there on the top left, mouthing on the stub of a branch. Directly below him, Acacia, set to become a first time mom this month,  gazes up at him. And on the right, some ways distant,  Jamani hangs out. She is not that concerned. Obviously, Bomassa has demonstrated to her that he is an able climber. This was all happening yesterday, July 3, between heavy downpours, so those logs are not even dry!
Acacia looks up at Bomassa while mother Jamani has a rest on the left
At fifteen pounds, Bomassa is a little smaller than his younger half-brother Apollo. But in terms of skill, big brother is way ahead. He started beating his chest some months ago; Apollo has yet to do so. Bomassa seems steadier on his feet, and seems to get around a little more quickly. It's possible that Apollo too is climbing up the structure everyone calls the tree, but I've not yet seen it.

Bomassa turns one year old soon. Follow him on Twitter!
You would think he would have trouble negotiating those big fat logs, but no.  His small arms, hands and feet  can handle them very well as he scales upwards. Of course he might reach down for his mom once in awhile, or check to see that she's nearby. 
Bomassa reaches down towards his mama
Once Bomassa goes all the way up on top, he can just sit and relax up there with his mom. His dad, the 21 year old N'kosi, makes a nest up there frequently. Visitors observing this often make allusion to the King of the Hill. But he's a self-assured silverback and does not seem to mind sharing the perch every now and then. With Bomassa climbing so skilfully already, at only ten months old, there's no telling what he'll be up to next time you come out and see him at the zoo!  
Jamani and Bomassa chillin' on the top of  the tree

Monday, July 1, 2013

Baby Gorillas up the Wall

Gorilla Yoga

Baby Bomassa Gorilla, nine months old in this photo,  is perfectly adept at standing. He and his baby brother Apollo are both fascinated with the wall these days. They like to stand up and stretch their arms up as far as they can go. Here you get a really good view of Bomassa's big hands and you can see that his arms are longer than his short little legs. Mother Jamani is never far from her son. She is looking on,  in the photo below. That wall is one of her favorite places to relax.

Bomassa stretches as Jamani keeps watch
Speaking of Jamani, her brother is now living in the Carolinas too.  Ajari Gorilla has recently arrived at  Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina where he will be living with Chaka and Mike in a bachelor group. He is twelve years old now, and like Jamani, was born in San Diego.You can look at a family tree for Riverbanks Zoo to find out more about the gorillas Ajari will be living with.