Gorilla

Gorilla groovin’: Promoting play through enrichment

 

Dallas Zoo’s Primate Keeper II Ashley Orr guest blogs for ZooHoo!

You may have seen the original viral video of gorilla Zola dancing in a puddle when he was a youngster living at Calgary Zoo, and his passion for splashin’ has only continued with age! However, there’s a lot more to this behavior than a great ape groovin’ in the water.

Zola is a 14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla, and the youngest member of our bachelor troop. When he isn’t hanging out in the South gorilla habitat, Zola spends his hours inside our roomy gorilla building. The big, blue pool featured in this video is one of many enrichment items the gorilla keepers use to engage primates.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure that the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices. Enrichment helps enhance the environment and lives of animals by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior. This is an important component in caring for all zoo animals, but primate enrichment is among the most complex and varied.

Enrichment can take many forms; it can be an object such as a ball, a scent like an herb or perfume, visual stimulation such as a mirror, a change in an animal’s company or location, an activity like painting or training, introduction of a new food, or a challenging food presentation… the options are almost limitless! As keepers, we are constantly coming up with new and fresh ways to enrich our animals. And clearly the pool is a favorite for Zola!

Zola’s “dancing” is really just a play behavior (there was no breakdance music playing in the building, we promise). Play is a natural behavior present in a wide array of animals. In fact, the presence of play can signify an animal is content or comfortable, and it is recognized as an indicator for general welfare. It is easy for anyone to appreciate the good time that Zola is having in the pool because we recognize some of the same signs of play that we see in people.

Gorillas in the wild have been observed to willingly enter the water to feed or to cross to other areas. Some gorillas have even been documented using long sticks to probe beneath the water and gauge depth for safe passage (fun fact, gorillas are anatomically too dense to swim). This is an impressive example of great ape intelligence.

Visit Zola and the three other gorillas in our bachelor troop, or the four members of the family troop, to watch them engage with enrichment in their habitats. Proceeds from your visit help purchase enrichment items for our Zoo animals, and also support our conservation partners in the field, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), that help gorillas in the wild.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Enrichment, Gorilla | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Zoo Corps electronics recycling initiative is here to stay

We’ve just wrapped up our second year of Zoo Corps, and I couldn’t be prouder of this year’s group of amazing high schoolers. Our youth-led conservation team meets twice a month throughout the school year and selects an important conservation issue to address. While I provide guidance along the way and connect the team with knowledgeable Zoo staff, these teens do it all – from conducting research to making key decisions.

This year’s group selected deforestation as their issue to tackle. Although a multi-faceted and daunting issue, the teens came up with a creative and effective way to make a positive impact.

During Endangered Species Weekend, Zoo Corps launched a new initiative to help save gorilla habitats and encourage Zoo guests to reforest their own backyards. As you may have read in their earlier blog post, gorillas, chimps, okapi and many other animals who call African rainforests their home are losing this critical habitat. Much of this habitat loss is due to mining coltan, a mineral used to manufacture electronics such as cell phones and tablets. By recycling or extending the life of these devices, you can help reduce the demand for coltan, and ultimately help save gorilla habitat!

While the potential for storms seemed to keep some people away on Saturday, May 20, we had a great turnout on Sunday, May 21, and overall, the weekend was a success! We collected a total of 56 devices, including phones, tablets and MP3 players. Each will be recycled with ECO-CELL, a handheld electronics recycling company founded in 2003.

Though team members were initially concerned about saving habitat in Africa, they also wanted to save wildlife in their own backyards. To help local wildlife, the teens gave out Texas native tree saplings to Zoo guests who brought a device to recycle. They also engaged visitors in conversations about gorillas, giving out saplings to guests who could answer trivia questions about the great apes. In total, Zoo Corps gave out 100 tree saplings from Texas Trees Foundation that were ready for guests to take home and plant in their yards!

In addition to the Zoo Corps cell phone recycling drive, Endangered Species Weekend featured 7 stations around the Zoo where visitors took specific pledges to help protect wildlife. Pledges were simple tasks that anyone can do, but they can make a big difference in small ways! In total, there were 3,200 pledges to save wildlife, with 250 specifically for gorillas.

I could not be more proud of these students who have so much passion and drive to save endangered species, and I look forward to welcoming the 2017-2018 Zoo Corps group who will make their own difference in the world. Applications will be live this August for students who will be in grades 9-12 for the upcoming school year.

If you didn’t make it to Endangered Species Weekend, you can still recycle your small electronics any time you visit the Zoo.

Categories: Conservation, Education, Gorilla | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Teens launch cell phone recycling initiative to save gorillas

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Dallas Zoo’s Zoo Corps youth-led conservation team guest-blogs on ZooHoo! Our group of 14 high school Corps members worked together to select a challenging conservation issue, develop a solution, and put it into action. Here’s their story.

In 2016 alone, nearly 1.5 billion smartphones were purchased around the world. And sadly, the ramifications of producing these small electronic devices is seriously harming wildlife habitat.

Every minute, 150 acres of rain forest is lost to deforestation, depriving animals of their homes and people of crucial resources. One major cause of habitat destruction in central Africa is the mining of the mineral coltan, which is widely used in common compact technology devices, such as cell phones. The plight of critically endangered gorillas, a species already challenged by a variety of issues, is further exacerbated when their habitat is destroyed for unsustainable cell phone production.

The Zoo Corps team is combating this issue by holding a cell phone recycling drive so Dallas Zoo visitors can bring in electronic items to be recycled. By salvaging and reprocessing usable pieces, this drive will play a part in reducing the demand for coltan, which, in turn, will help save gorillas and other forest animals.

Although this issue is daunting, we can help make a difference. During the Zoo’s Endangered Species Weekend, May 20-21, the first 50 Zoo visitors each day will receive a free Texas native tree to plant at home in exchange for an approved recyclable electronic! While supplies last, even those who are unable to bring their used technology may be able receive a tree at no cost by learning about deforestation and answering trivia questions throughout the weekend.

We ask everyone to participate in this exciting event by donating old cell phones and electronics! We’ll work with the conservation-minded company Eco-Cell to make sure your device is recycled.

And if you can’t make it out to Endangered Species Weekend, you can still recycle your small electronics any time you visit the Zoo. In the meantime, consider attending a tree planting session in partnership with the Texas Trees Foundation to help fight deforestation.

Here’s the low-down on how you can recycle your electronics at the Zoo.

What we can accept:Zoo Corps Coltan Infographic-01

  • Cell phones (smart phones and older cell phones)
  • iPods
  • iPads
  • Tablets
  • MP3 players
  • Handheld video games

We do NOT accept:

  • Desktop computers
  • Monitors
  • Laptops
  • Game consoles
  • Calculators

*Note: Apple, Best Buy, Staples, and other retailers will take larger items like these. Call your local store to find out more.

What to do with your device before dropping it off:

  1. Backup your device and save any data you want to keep, such as contacts, photos, or music.
  2. For security purposes, we recommend resetting the device and wiping all data. Specific instructions can be found online for various devices.
  3. Remove the case and/or screen protector.

Where can I drop off my device?

You may drop off your used devices with a staff member at the Membership Services booth, ticket booths, Information Booth. You may also leave them in the drop box at the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center at the Dallas Zoo while you’re here visiting our gorillas.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Education, Events, Gorilla | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gorilla wounds common as males grow into silverbacks

Tom Harlan 2

Gorillas Zola (left) and B’wenzi (right) interact in their habitat. Photo courtesy of Tom Harlan

Humans are squishy. It’s been a long time since our ancestors shared any of the strong, physical traits of the other great apes. And while those primates evolved to be big and tough, we did not.

As our brains began to develop instead, we became adept at using tools and learned to control fire, build shelters, and grow our own food. These advancements set us on a course to be very smart – and very squishy. We no longer needed to be big and tough, so those traits began to go away as we became more technologically advanced.

The other great apes continued down their own paths, which still require them to be strong, powerful animals. In their environments, being tough is the key to survival. It’s no surprise that a 450-pound gorilla with canine teeth 2-3 inches long can leave a nasty wound on another gorilla, and from time to time we see that here at the Zoo.

When cuts and scrapes occur in our gorillas, we’re always ready to treat and monitor them until every last scratch has healed.

So why do these herbivorous animals have such big teeth to begin with? Well, those teeth are for protection. Gorillas don’t have any true natural predators, although some research suggests the possibility of rare conflicts with leopards (definitely a good time for big teeth).

The most common threat to a silverback gorilla is generally another silverback. A male may try to challenge another to usurp his throne or steal females to build a troop of his own. Male gorillas have much larger canines than females, and they use those teeth to protect the females and youngsters in their troop.

If challenged, gorillas go through a long list of behaviors, trying to avoid a physical conflict. If you think about it, fighting someone means you’re just as likely to get hurt as they are, so why risk it? Gorillas are peaceful, laid-back animals that generally keep to themselves. In the wild, keeping a 400-pound frame of muscle while sometimes eating only the caloric equivalent of wild celery means there aren’t many good reasons to waste energy. However, when threatened, a male gorilla will not hesitate to defend his troop.

Fighting isn’t just a human trait, it’s part of life for much of the animal kingdom. Being that we’re so delicate, we’re used to even small wounds requiring attention, so our own experiences create a predisposition to react to wounds a certain way. Cutting your finger on a broken glass could require stitches, but in the middle of the jungle you don’t have the luxury of hopping in the car and heading to the hospital.

As bad as an open laceration may appear, it may not be that big of a deal for the gorilla. At the Dallas Zoo, we have an exceptional veterinary staff that can treat just about anything, and we don’t hesitate to call upon them when needed. Keeping that in mind, most animals are experts at taking care of their own wounds, and gorillas are no exception.Gorillas telling secrets-CB

If you see a gorilla with an open wound, you may notice them grooming it with their fingers and utilizing nature’s ultimate antiseptic, spit, to keep it clean. As zookeepers, we keep a close eye on injuries to make sure things are healing appropriately, but when we can, we try to let the gorillas handle the job. The decision to anesthetize a gorilla to suture a wound is a carefully calculated risk/reward scenario, especially considering that more often than not that gorilla is going to hand you back those sutures within a few hours of waking up.

We train with the gorillas daily to make sure we can see every part of their body. We also desensitize them to being sprayed with antiseptic sprays, and we work on more complicated behaviors, like hand injections. If a gorilla were to need an injectable medication, which is rare, we want to get it to them in the least stressful way.

We also record even the smallest injuries. We use a very detailed system to document every injury and the details of the situation in which it occurred. Photographs are especially helpful, as they can be used as objective data to monitor the healing process. This information is not only important for individual injuries, but for enhancing our ability to treat future injuries.

In recent months, we have seen a few different wounds to gorillas in our bachelor troop. This troop consists of four 14- to 15-year-old males. Sometimes we see genuine social issues develop, while other times play just gets a little too rough.

Bachelor troops are a relatively new concept in zoos, so constant, adaptive management is the key to peace within the troop. Between the keeper staff and our volunteers in the Gorilla Research Station, we’re able to keep a close eye on all eight of our gorillas. This has been very important as we move into a new phase of troop management with the four bachelors.

This troop has been together since 2013, when Shana and Zola came to Dallas from the Calgary Zoo to join Juba and B’wenzi. When the boys were 10-11 years old, they started forming social relationships, which comes in handy as they get older. With the information we have as other institutions manage similar troops, we know that management of bachelors is most difficult between ages 14-20. Having similar life expectancies and developmental stages to humans, we understand why these years are the most difficult (right, parents?).

Bachelor troops exist both in human care and the wild, and they serve a number of purposes. As young males begin to grow, the silverback generally will force them out of the troop, avoiding a threat to his position. Sometimes those exiled males will band together and form bachelor troops. These groups are generally transitory, but allow for development of social behaviors and provide some degree of protection from outside threats.

In zoos, bachelor troops are used to manage unattached males. Gorillas have a 50:50 birth ratio, just like humans, meaning that having single-male/multi-female troops isn’t possible for everyone. Bachelor troops can provide healthy social environments for growing male gorillas, which are often more closely bonded than they would be with female gorillas.

With all of our social apes, we also see an increase in aggression during introductions and reintroductions, which is another reason we avoid more invasive and intrusive courses of treatment. When possible, we try to avoid separating the gorillas for long periods to make sure we keep aggression to a minimum when they get back together.

When animals are injured in the zoo setting, it’s important to know the team behind the scenes is on the job at all times. If an animal needs to be watched 24 hours a day, we’ll be here with them. If they need to receive medication at a certain time, someone will be there. Between the keeper staff and the vet staff, we do all we can for preventive and reactive care of our animals, and not a scratch goes unnoticed under the watchful eye of the animal staff here at Dallas Zoo.

Categories: Gorilla, Mammals | Tags: | 3 Comments

Dallas Zoo wins international award for protecting wild gorillas

The Dallas Zoo and eight other Association of Zoos & Aquariums institutions have been recognized with a prestigious national award for conservation work protecting gorillas in the wild.

We received AZA’s 2016 International Conservation Award for our work with GRACE – the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center. GRACE was created in 2009 to protect Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s the only facility of its kind in the world.

The conservation award recognizes exceptional efforts toward habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild. We received the award in collaboration with Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Houston Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Nashville Zoo, Jacksonville Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo, Sedgwick County Zoo and Utah’s Hogle Zoo.

The Dallas Zoo is a longtime supporter of GRACE financially, through volunteer work and donations. Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregggracve-award Hudson serves on GRACE’s board of directors and Mammal Curator Keith Zdrojewski is on the organization’s Animal Care and Welfare Advisory Group. Last year, Zdrojewski traveled to the DRC to help GRACE design and build a corridor for the endangered gorillas.

“This award reinforces our commitment to conservation of animals all across the globe,” Hudson said. “Grauer’s gorillas are some of the most endangered animals on the planet, and the GRACE Project is playing a vital role in keeping these remarkable animals around for generations to come. We look forward to continuing to support these gorillas alongside this dedicated conservation group, as we do with partners around the world.”

Did you know: Our support of the gorillas’ rehabilitation in the DRC isn’t possible without the support of our community and the million-plus visitors who walk through our gates every year. The Dallas Zoo is non-profit organization, and a portion of every ticket purchased supports our conservation fieldwork partners, helping protect wild animals and wild places worldwide. We thank you, and so do the Grauer’s gorillas and other wildlife.

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