Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can Gorillas Climb a Pole?

You bet! Both Apollo and Bomassa have been observed climbing up a metal pole which is part of structure people call the tree. Here's the younger brother, on his way up the pole. Once he gets up there, there's nowhere to go. I think the pole might have something of a ceiling over it. So he climbs up. And he climbs down, and he climbs up, and he climbs down. Olympia, Apollo's mother, sits nearby picking seeds out of the straw and eating them.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gorilla Grooming

Many of the primates spend a lot of time grooming. If you stand and watch lemurs for any length of time, or chimpanzees, or particularly baboons, you are going to see them arranging themselves in groups and reaching out to stroke the fur of whoever is sitting nearby. Grooming helps with the removal of dirt, parasites, dead skin, insects and tangled fur. So that's a big part of the reason you see baboons etc. doing a lot of grooming. Not so with the gorillas at the zoo where I visit baby gorilla brothers Apollo and Bomassa. I have been there just about every week over the past year, but I don't see the grownups grooming each other. Nor have I observed any gorilla grooming at other zoos. None. Yes, the moms will lovingly stroke the fur of their babies every now and then.  That's what Jamani is doing below. So you will occasionally see a little mother to child grooming, but that's about it.

You've perhaps seen videos showing grooming among the wild mountain gorillas. That's the species of gorilla made famous when Diane Fossey studied them for many years. One of the zookeepers told me that gorilla grooming in the wild happens with some frequency, though perhaps not as much as with some of the other primates. I wonder if that is the result of gorillas being so big, and being leaf eaters. There is some evidence that grooming behavior, beyond being purely for purposes of hygiene, may also help a lower ranking animal get the support of a higher ranking animal. But in the gorilla world, perhaps the idea of support is not so crucial. The gorilla is king, with no natural predators to worry about, so they don't have to protect one another from predation. The silverback leads the group to a good feeding spot each day. There is not a lot of competition for food, because gorillas eat a diet of leaves, branches and bark, which are omnipresent in the thick forests they call home, so they don't have to work with each other to get better access to food. The smaller primates have a much tougher time protecting themselves and finding food. So it would not be surprising that they would put more energy into building alliances, and to the extent that grooming is part of gaining the good graces of a higher ranking individual, smaller primates are likely to have a very strong reason to engage in grooming behaviors. So that's my theory for why gorillas in the wild groom less frequently than other primates.

But in zoos, there is very little mutual grooming among gorilla adults. So we have another question which is why is there less gorilla grooming in zoos, than in the wild. I have a theory about that. Do you?

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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Here Comes Trouble

Apollo Gorilla is on the march! Here he comes, barreling toward the shelter. It was a drizzly, cool day on Monday when I went out to visit the boys, their moms, and their Auntie Acacia. Everyone was doing well and getting along nicely. Which is to say, that Acacia was amusing herself , Jamani found herself a good place to rest and was cradling or carrying her little boy Bomassa, and Apollo was sticking close to Olympia for the better part of the day.

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The feeding happened right on schedule at 11:30, which meant carrots, peppers and lettuce came hurtling over the wall, and nice big branches of succulent browse found themselves stuck into the fence where the gorillas could easily reach them. A handful of carrots bounced right in front of me. Apollo, now almost fourteen months old,  perked up and came running after those treats of orangy goodness. These boys have to be quick to get something as delicious as a carrot before their mamas see it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

How to Get a Great Zoo Photograph. Part 3

Part Three. The features.

You're at the zoo and you want to come home with some decent photos, but you're not exactly a world class nature photographer. Never mind that! With a few tips, you can take some pretty good shots. In Part One we talked about how to maximize your chances by staying a long time and going often. In Part Two we talked about how important it is to pay attention to the light. And now, we let you know what to focus on. One of the reasons we find animals so intriguing, is that many of them have fascinating distinguishing features. For the male lion, it's that massive mane, for the zebra, it's the stripes, for the flamingo it's the mile long legs. Observe the animal for a while. Think about what you find appealing. Is there a feature which sets the animal apart from all others? If so, go ahead and try to find a way to make that part of the animal especially prominent in the photo.
Here in this photo of a baboon reaching for a rope,  what I found striking was the length of the arm, so I made sure to focus on that. When I went to visit  Jojo, the silverback gorilla of the Brookfield Zoo near Chicago, it was the pose that was so compelling. So I made sure to take a full shot of Jojo, demonstrating how a silverback will perch on his haunches.   And on another day, when I was photographing a mother pig and her piglets, what was most amazing was how tiny those babies are in comparison, so when one of the tiny piggies went up and nuzzle his mom, snout to snout, I was sure to capture that.
Sometimes it's a little more subtle that all that, but you can still create a good photo.  Apollo Gorilla is being completely adorable just resting on the log above, but it's hard to zero in on a distinguishing aspect. So  I made sure to focus on those eyes of his. Having visited, photographed and blogged about these baby gorillas constantly for over a year now, it's surely obvious to you that I find just about anything regarding a juvenile gorilla to be completely captivating. But the eyes, in particular,  are where the gorillas show so much humanity. I wanted to be sure to show them off  as best I could.
With gorillas, the eyes are a challenge, especially as they get older. Gorillas have a prominent forehead which protectively juts out over their eyes.  Most of the time, that brow ridge creates a dark shadow. To get a photo where gorilla eyes are clearly visible in all their glory, I generally have to stand there waiting until the animal turns face to sun.  That's just what Apollo has done here, with the result that his face is nicely lit up. When you are at the zoo, be patient. Watch the animal. Think about what makes this animal special, and then get ready to snap that shutter just at the right time to capture what you find so endearing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Gorilla Brothers, to Your Corners!

After tussling with each other a few times during the day, the two baby boy gorillas stood up, and moved away from each other, and that was that. They were all done knocking each other around,  and done showing those teeth and they went on to other activities. Like sitting near their respective moms. And maybe nursing a little too.
Here we see Bomassa looking bigger and taller on the right. He weighs a little less at the moment, but don't count him out just yet. His mother is substantially taller than is Apollo's mom, which might give him the genes to grow into the larger silverback. And when will that happen? Male gorillas typically reach maturity around eleven or twelve years old, and that's when their backs begin to silver. Follow ZooMuchInformation on Facebook for more.