Apes and Monkeys

Apes and Monkeys


Gorilla Bachelors: A Day in the Life

Maka is the leader of the Zoo's gorilla bachelor troop.

Maka is the leader of the Zoo’s gorilla bachelor troop.

A typical day in the life of the San Diego Zoo’s bachelor brothers, 20-year-old Maka, 13-year-old Mandazzi, and 9-year-old Ekuba includes both some outdoor exhibit time and indoor bedroom time. On this sample day, they are scheduled to go outside in the morning, and our breeding troop will go out in the afternoon. After an early morning wake up to check on how everyone is feeling, a heart-healthy breakfast of low-starch biscuits and their favorite banana leaf browse, it’s time for keepers to head out to clean and set up the exhibit for the day. Keeping the boys active and engaged is a top priority; it’s one of the highlights of my day and most certainly theirs, too!

We have a wonderful and creative team of enrichment volunteers that keep our gorillas well-stocked with fun items like painted gourds, boxes, papier-maché and burlap bags, perfume-scented pine cones, bamboo cups for gelatin or peanut butter, palm husk baskets and comfy hay beds to sleep on (they even take special requests for birthday parties or upcoming holiday themes!)In addition to the enrichment, we also set out plenty of fresh cut browse. The boys get a total of 12 branches of a variety of browse delivered daily by our hard-working forage team. Willow, mulberry, and rusty-leaf fig are always a huge hit!  After we top off the exhibit with a liberal sprinkling of cereal to increase foraging, it’s time for the boys to head outside.

As is the case with all of our primates, the gorillas are part of an extensive training program that allows us to give them excellent medical care. On their way outside, each one of the boys stop in a chute and are asked for a variety of behaviors that allow us to get a good look at them one-on-one and address any issues. For example, we might notice Mandazzi has a hang nail and dry heels, so we file the nail and apply lotion to his feet; Ekuba needs a quick tooth brushing; and Maka has a minor cut on his arm that we will irrigate to promote faster healing. These are a just a few of the over 20 behaviors the gorillas know. This individual time keeps them in top form and develops an invaluable relationship of trust between gorilla and keeper. And it doesn’t hurt that they get yummy fruit and nut pieces hand fed to them during these daily check-ups!

Once outside, the boys enjoy their enrichment and foraging time, check in with a few devoted friends on the other side of the glass (our guests!) and settle in for a mid-morning nap next to the rushing sound of the waterfalls. Like all primates, gorillas like to eat throughout the day, so every couple of hours more food and treats are distributed by a keeper from the roof of the building. The boys each have their favorite “spot” to be in while the food is delivered. Maka usually prefers to hang back either on the “point” or along the side near the waterfalls to keep an eye on things. Ekuba takes the requisite spot between his big brothers, and Mandazzi, ever the foodie, likes to be front and center catching all of his food like a pro center fielder. In addition to fresh produce like yams, broccoli, snap peas, jicama. and green peppers, the boys get treats like peanut butter covered pine cones or Crystal Light-flavored ice treats. This enrichment requires a lot of time to enjoy, so they are occupied until their early afternoon naptime rolls around.

Keepers describe Mandazzi as a "foodie".

Keepers describe Mandazzi as a “foodie”; he’s also usually the first one into the bedrooms at the end of the day.

By mid-afternoon, when the bedrooms have been cleaned and the bedding re-fluffed, it’s time for the boys to come in so that our other troop can head outside. Mandazzi is almost always the first one in. His eager attitude has made him our star patient in training for voluntary cardiac ultrasounds. He has an appointment this afternoon and our veterinarian is already staging the scene. Heart disease is a major concern for adult male gorillas. To help with early identification and treatment of this disease, all four adult male gorillas at the Zoo are trained to allow us to “see” how their hearts are functioning.

Mandazzi comes up to the front of his room where the veterinarian and keeper are set up, positions himself with his chest flush against the mesh separating his space from ours, and an ultrasound probe is placed against his chest to capture images while a keeper gives him treats. Depending on the position and length of time we need him to hold the position, keepers offer the gorilla juice from a squirt bottle, applesauce from a spoon, or hand feed pieces of fruit and nuts. Mandazzi did great and three different angles of his heart were recorded today. He gets a few more treats from a happy veterinarian and then it’s time for second lunch and more fun enrichment!

While inside, the gorillas often get very messy enrichment. There are piles of shredded paper or pine shaving with raisins to dig through. Magazines are sprinkled with seeds and spices and ready to be torn up. Often, their produce and hay is fed out in puzzle feeders that take time to manipulate. With a nature DVD playing on their wall-mounted flat screen TVs and a pile of cardboard boxes to dig through, the boys are busy right up until late afternoon nap time. After a power nap, the boys get another round of browse to strip and eat while the day keeper finishes her/his tasks and updates the evening keeper that takes over the area. As the sun sets, the boys get ready for their evening routine— and more food!

Peaceable, laid-back Ekuba has the ability to enter his brothers' bedrooms at night.

Peaceable, laid-back Ekuba has the ability to enter his brothers’ bedrooms at night.

Each of the boys has their own room at night. They are fed in their separate rooms to make sure everyone gets their fair share. Afterwards, the doors between rooms are opened wide enough for little, peacekeeping Ekuba to mingle. This allows for some socializing but still gives both of the big boys a peaceful night’s sleep without worrying about the other sneaking into “their” room while they are relaxing. Maka is the troop leader, being the oldest brother, but Mandazzi already outweighs him and we are always aware of the possibility of a coup. No such drama tonight, however. All is quiet as bedding is adjusted and sleepy boys are ready to settle in for the night. After all, tomorrow starts with an early morning keeper wake up call, and big bowl of heart healthy biscuits.

Nerissa Foland is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Oh, joy—It’s a Boy!


New Additions To Our Langur Troop

At birth, silvered leaf langur babies are bright orange.

At birth, silvered leaf langur babies are bright orange.

Our silvered leaf langur troop has recently grown with the addition of two vibrant infants: Bakau, born on December 8, 2014 and Devi, born on March 10, 2015. They are easy to spot as langur babies are born bright orange! As they grow they will slowly change to the silvery gray color of the adults, a process that can take three to five months.

Langurs perform allomothering, where others in the group will frequently carry a baby, allowing the mother time to eat and rest. This behavior also lets younger females practice their parenting skills before raising their own infants. It is thought that the babies are born orange to attract attention and encourage group members to offer care. Our babies are so popular in the troop that even the males and all the youngsters want to carry them!

At over three months old, Bakau is already beginning to turn gray. His hands, feet, and head show a lot of gray hair and his orange coloring has become paler. The contrast is very apparent when compared to newborn Devi and his vibrant orange color. Bakau grows more independent every day and can often be seen climbing around on his own and wrestling with his siblings. Little Devi has yet to venture of off his mom, but it won’t be long before he joins in the fun.

The youngsters—and the whole troop—can be seen at the San Diego Zoo, in their special habitat located next to the orangutans and siamangs.


A Very Happy First Birthday

Joanne's first birthday is, well, the icing on the cake in her amazing story.

Joanne’s first birthday was, well, the icing on the cake in her amazing story.

March 12 was a big day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Baby gorilla Joanne turned one year old, and the staff threw her an epic birthday party! Joanne’s first few weeks in this world required a giant team effort. Unable to deliver Joanne on her own, mom Imani had to undergo a C-section. Subsequently, due to minor health complications, Joanne needed around-the-clock care from a team of veterinary staff, keeper staff from both the Safari Park and the Zoo, and human neonatal specialists.

Fittingly, one year later, a second team of enthusiastic people assembled to help celebrate this joyful milestone. Safari Park volunteers and staff from the forage, horticulture, and mammal departments worked hard to transform the gorilla exhibit into a lively birthday bash. Decorations included ice cakes and cupcakes, fresh browse branches, streamers, papier-mâché balloons, colorful chalk drawings, cardboard box gifts and animals, and even an over-sized dollhouse large enough for Joanne and the other two youngsters in the group, six-year-old Frank and three-year-old Monroe, to climb on!

The entire troop partied all morning long, spreading out and claiming different areas of the exhibit and clusters of decorations to explore and enjoy. A lively and vibrant one-year-old, Joanne was able to partake in the festivities right alongside the rest of her family. Her favorite treat items seemed to be the flowering browse branches and the ice cakes, but she was also greatly entertained simply by bouncing around investigating all the colorful décor.

These days we see Joanne becoming a more active member of her gorilla troop. She interacts more often with other individuals besides her mom—including play sessions with Frank and Monroe. She has also shown brave interest in Winston, her rather stoic dad who is not often seen breaking character to fool around with the kids. When not playing with others, Joanne easily entertains herself. You can often see her using Imani as a jungle gym, or climbing up and sliding down ropes and smooth rocks around the exhibit. To a one-year-old gorilla, the world is your playground!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Baby Joanne’s Growing Diet.


Little Green Guards Excitement!

The Little Green Guards were excited by our surprising camera-trap discoveries. (Photo by Lei Shi)

The Little Green Guards were excited by our surprising camera-trap discoveries. (Photo by Lei Shi)

The feeling of love and empathy for animals is very much influenced by one’s culture and upbringing. How can people conserve endangered animals if they do not love them? How do people come to love and appreciate animals? These are the kinds of questions I often ponder, and I am eager to find ways to help people, especially children, bond with animals.

Over the last five years, I have been exploring the topic of love and empathy toward animals and learning how to cultivate these sentiments in children who are in my Little Green Guards program. Little Green Guards are children living in conservation priority areas that have an underdeveloped economy and education system. The goal of the program is to build a strong and lasting love for animals in children, ultimately empowering them to become conservation stewards of their natural heritage.

Because personal experience can create deep impressions, it is important to include many field trip opportunities for Little Green Guards to fall in love with animals and nature. In Fanjingshan, China, my collaborators and I recently used our camera-trap research project as a way to introduce local schoolchildren to wildlife that may be difficult to see in the nearby forest.

Before going to the field we explained the science behind our camera-trap research to the children, how the cameras have helped us understand the “secrets” of many amazing animals, some active in the day and some at night. We then tantalized the children with our best photos and the “surprises” we discovered. The children would “Ooh!” and “Aah!” as they looked at the photos—the excitement for camera-trapping was escalating!

Fanjingshan nature reserve biologist Lei Si showed children how to mount a camera trap on a tree. (Photo by Kefeng Niu)

Fanjingshan nature reserve biologist Lei Si showed children how to mount a camera trap on a tree. (Photo by Kefeng Niu)

Out in the forest, we selected a relatively flat area with a sturdy tree. We then showed the kids how to properly install batteries and the memory card, program the settings, and finally mount the camera. When all the preparation was done, the children practiced taking “selfies,” one by one, by triggering the sensor in front of the camera and saying “Qiezi!” (the Chinese version of “Cheese!”). Beyond just having fun, this Little Green Guards lesson allowed us to teach the children not only about animal biology and caring for their wildlife neighbors but also essential life skills so they can develop healthy self-esteem, despite their rural circumstances.

Two Little Green Guards inspect the camera trap,

Two Little Green Guards inspect the camera trap,

The success of the Little Green Guards program will require long-term efforts and reaching out to as many communities as possible around Fanjingshan and other protected areas in China as well as in Vietnam and Madagascar. As the citizens who live adjacent to natural habitats form the front line of defense in protecting local biodiversity, we imagine that our Little Green Guards program may have a substantial positive influence on people’s attitudes toward conservation. We hope that one day every child in the Little Green Guards program will develop affection for wildlife so that when that day comes, we can all smile and say “Qiezi!”

Chia Tan, Ph.D., is a senior scientist in the Conservation Partnership Development Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, Have Camera Trap, Will Travel.


Baby Joanne’s Growing Diet

Little Joanne is exploring a whole range of new tastes as she begins to add solid foods to her daily diet.

Little Joanne is exploring a whole range of  tastes and textures as she begins adding solid foods to her diet.

Baby gorilla Joanne continues to grow and develop at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Baby gorillas will continue to nurse until mom chooses to wean them, usually between ages three to four years. Still, at 10 months old and with a full set of baby teeth, Joanne has developed quite a healthy appetite for solid foods!

Western lowland gorillas are herbivores, meaning that they eat only plant material. Each day, we offer the gorillas at the Park a variety of fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, tree branches harvested from the our browse farm, and high-fiber primate biscuits. Little Joanne is developing a taste for her favorites, favorites, although her opinion seems to change almost daily! When Joanne either eagerly devours or spits out something we have offered her, we consider ourselves “updated” as to her preferences.

Keepers feed the gorillas in different ways throughout the day. We spread food items around the exhibit to allow the gorillas to forage at their own pace in addition to calling them to a spot or “station” to receive individual diets specifically measured out for each gorilla. During these station-feeding sessions, Joanne has learned that it benefits her to put some distance between herself and mom, Imani. While Imani is generally patient about letting Joanne finish chewing whatever food is in her mouth, anything in Joanne’s hand or on the ground around her is fair game!

At lunchtime on exhibit, Imani and Joanne station on the upper right-hand hill of the gorilla exhibit, and keepers can toss items to each individually. Morning station feedings in the bedrooms are set aside for training and generally occur as a one-on-one keeper to gorilla session. Since Joanne has become interested in participating in these sessions, she often gets her own keeper with to interact with while Imani focuses on her training on the other side of the bedroom.

For now, these sessions with Joanne are helping her form relationships with her keepers and build up her confidence away from mom. As little Joanne grows older, keepers will begin training her to offer different behaviors useful in our care of her, using her favorite food items as positive reinforcement. As for what those favorite food items will be, Joanne will certainly let us know in her own way!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Joanne: Little Miss Personality.


Siamangs Play Nice With Baby Orangutan Aisha

Aisha learning the ropes

Aisha learning the ropes

All day long, Aisha can be seen on exhibit with the rest of the orangutans and now the siamangs, too. In December, after careful consideration, the introductions were made between Indah and Aisha and the siamangs. In the weeks prior, visual introductions were done inside where the siamangs could come near mom and baby but remain separate. We saw no negative interactions and even some interest from Aisha toward the siamangs. This lead us to believe that this time around should be different (ten years ago, the siamangs aggressively chased Indah and her baby, Cinta). And for sure, this time around was completely different.

Indah was in charge of the introduction from the beginning. Whenever she thought the siamangs were getting too close or too inquisitive, she chased them off and made them leave her. There wasn’t any aggression or fighting ever during the entire process. The siamangs were interested in Aisha and continue to be.

Photo by Ion Moe

Photo by Ion Moe

We see Unkie and Ellie play with Aisha (under Indah’s close supervision). They will grab her hair or arm or leg and Aisha will work at getting away and then as soon as she is ‘free,’ she goes right back to them. We also see them swing their foot near her trying to get her to grab it.

Karen has been interacting with Aisha more, hanging near her on the climbing structures. Aisha is spending more time away from Indah and Karen will go up into the tree to be near her. Janey hasn’t had much interaction with her but I figure once Aisha is on the ground more Janey will be playing with her and checking her out.

At 15 months, Aisha is near 15 lbs and has 2 canines coming in-16 teeth in total.

The orangutans can be seen in the exhibit from 9am to 4:30pm.

BONUS: Watch the video of Aisha’s first birthday


Tanya Howard is senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Oh, Joy—It’s a Boy!

On December 26, as we quietly started our morning routine at the Zoo, we found a wonderful surprise: a highly endangered western lowland gorilla had been born! We had just entered the building at 6:15 a.m. when we discovered 34-year-old gorilla Jessica cradling a newborn who looked to be less than an hour old. She was gingerly cleaning her baby boy and clutching him close to her chest. This is the sixth baby for Jessica and, as expected, she is proving to be a great mother once again!

The two other members of her troop, Paul Donn and Ndjia, have been close by ever since the baby’s arrival. This is the fourth offspring for father Paul Donn, a 25-year-old silverback. He’s been a gentle, playful father who is very protective of each of his kids. The other female, 20-year-old Ndjia, is extremely interested in the infant, sitting close to Jessica. In the past, Ndjia has been a great playmate and caregiver to young gorillas and seems to want to continue her warm and inviting ways with the new baby right away. But at this point, the baby is too new and fragile for a mom as protective as Jessica. We are looking forward to watching both Paul and Ndjia interact with this new little boy more and more as he grows and explores his surroundings.

Jessica and her newborn, along with troop-mates Ndjia and Paul, are on exhibit in the afternoons for our guests to view, as weather permits. Since the troop enjoys being next to the glass at the main viewing area (could it be the comforting heaters that line the glass windows?), you can get a wonderful up-close view of our newest bundle of joy!

April Bove-Rothwell and Nerissa Foland are Senior Keepers at the San Diego Zoo.


Silvered Leaf Langurs: Active Monkeys

Watch the antics of the Zoo's silvered leaf langurs!

Watch the antics of the Zoo’s silvered leaf langurs!

If you have yet to see our silvered leaf langurs, make sure to view them on your next visit to the San Diego Zoo. This group of 13 monkeys moved into its exhibit in June. They can be found in the glass building next to the orangutans.

Silvered leaf langurs are native to Southeast Asia and get their name from their long, gray-white hair that gives them a silver appearance and from their leaf-based diet. Interestingly, baby langurs are born bright orange and don’t turn gray until they are three to five months old. This langur species is only found in six accredited zoos in the United States.

With 13 individuals, the San Diego Zoo houses the largest group of silvered leaf langurs in the country. It is a very dynamic group, with ages ranging from 10 months to 31 years old. Four of the monkeys are less than three years old, and they can frequently be seen playing, chasing each other, wrestling, and swinging from the tails of the adults. The group members spend their days alternating between rest periods and feeding and playing.

If you walk by and the exhibit appears empty, be sure to look up. Their favorite place to sleep is at the very top of their climbing structures. If you catch them while they are sleeping, be sure to visit again later. The antics of these playful langurs are not to be missed!

Julie Krajewski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Gorilla Joanne: Little Miss Personality

Joanne enjoys some kale with her father, Winston.

Joanne enjoys some kale with her father, Winston.

Now seven months old, gorilla Joanne is starting to develop her own little personality at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. These days she can be seen spending more and more time on her own two feet (and hands), investigating her world. An expert at clinging to her mother, Imani, while traveling about the exhibit, little Joanne rarely stays in one position. Everything Mom is doing, Joanne wants to get a good view.

You can see her riding on Imani’s back, hip, arm, leg, upside-down, right-side up, and everything in between. As soon as Mom sits down, Joanne lowers herself to the ground and is off exploring. The little girl has started to notice her older brothers wrestling nearby and seems eager to participate. Still a bit too small to get into the fray, you can often see Joanne watching intently or bouncing around by herself in the background.

Joanne is always very interested in eating anything Imani has collected; her favorites are lettuce, tomatoes, and acacia browse. While Mom will usually share her meals, it may be asking too much to expect Winston to share his favorite food—kale!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Gorilla Frank Turns 6.

Update: We’ll be celebrating gorilla Vila’s 57th on Thursday, November 6, starting at 9 a.m. at the Safari Park. We hope you can come wish her well1


Orangutan Aisha is One!

We hope Aisha and her mother have a wonderful birthday celebration!

We hope Aisha and her mother have a wonderful birthday celebration!

The past year has flown by! Our little orangutan Aisha is celebrating her first birthday on Saturday, October 25, 2014, at the San Diego Zoo. Aisha’s growing confidence is evident every day. She is very active on exhibit now, climbing and hanging around the tree structures. We even see her move away from Indah to a different tree to play. A few months ago her personality really became apparent. She plays with the enrichment in her room by throwing it up in the air, forages just like her mom, Indah, practices nest building, and eats everything she can get her little hands on.

Orangutan babies grow very slowly. Aisha weighs only about 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) and will be considered a baby for 4 years. Even though she has 12 teeth now and eats solid food from her mom’s diet, she will continue to nurse that entire time. There continues to be little interaction between Aisha and the other orangutans.

We will be celebrating Aisha’s birthday with extra enrichment for the whole group: painted boxes, gourds, treats, and more. Since Aisha is still staying on Mom when they are on the ground, Aisha will have to wait until Indah gets the treats and shares with her! Stop by the exhibit first thing Saturday morning to see everyone enjoying Aisha’s birthday, or watch the action on Ape Cam!

Tanya Howard is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Orangutan: 10 Teeth and Counting.