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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Intelligence of Gorillas

Gorillas know their colors

and they can learn sign language. They can even learn to understand the names for their various body parts. But put an enticing toy ring on a tree, and you just might find gorillas completely puzzled, at least when they're only about two years old. The wondrous reality is that you can observe the gorillas using their intelligence to try to devise a way to get a toy that looks attractive. Such was the case recently when I visited Apollo and Bomassa at the North Carolina Zoo. Each day, the keepers bring in some items for enrichment, so that the animals have something new to think about, something new to touch, to carry, to play with, to fascinate them. On this day they had brought in large black plastic rings, scattering some here and there on the ground.  I would not be surprised if the keepers had tucked some food into the sides of those rings. It's entertaining for the gorillas to manipulate an object, but even moreso, if there is some food to be had in the process. But not all of the rings were within reach. The keepers had placed one ring at the end of a log, those crafty devils! And the baby boys were fascinated!  They tried and tried to get at that ring, and to knock it down.

First, Bomassa looked up at that ring for the longest time, as you see in the top photo. And then Bomassa skillfully climbed up that log, going almost out to the end, but stopping short. I thought he was going to reach his hand out and flick that toy off the tree, letting it fall below. But instead he grabbed the ring and manhandled it, trying to pull it towards himself. That did not help at all with the mission! So Bomassa climbed back down, and then Apollo copied his big brother and did exactly the same thing. And he got the same result, leaving the ring exactly where the keepers had placed it.

As you can see in the last photo, Bomassa is standing right under the ring. I wonder if this is coincidence, or if Bomassa has figured out that if that rings falls when he is there, he is going to be the one to get it, even though Apollo did the work. Anyway, the boys gave up and attended to other boy gorilla matters, such as finding some food in the brush, and checking in with their mamas now and then. But the allure proved too much, so later they tried again for the ring, using an entirely new method. All will be revealed in next week's post. If you are signed up for email, you will be the first to know! Look for the Follow By Email box over in the right hand column.

Bomassa looks wistfully at the ring on the end of the branch


Bomassa and Apollo took turns

Apollo gets close as Bomassa observes from below