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.