Posts Tagged With: 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

Teens launch cell phone recycling initiative to save gorillas

_MG_9731-Hope gorilla w-logo CB

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

Conservation concerns brought to life with interactive art displays from 9th graders

Conservation concerns about animals may not be top of mind for most teenagers, but the ninth graders at Village Tech High School are far from typical.

The students from the Cedar Hill charter school were challenged this past spring to think deeply about endangered animals for a semester-long project integrating many different school subjects with an end goal of a prototype interactive sculpture.

A partnership with the Dallas Zoo elevated the original challenge by giving the students the opportunity to talk with experts and possibly have their work displayed to the public.

“The Zoo gives the project credibility and an authentic audience,” said Justin Robinson, the director of the Forge, the school lab that brought these projects to life.

By the end of the year, the ninth graders completed four interactive art display prototypes highlighting the ocelot, African elephant, hawksbill sea turtle and western lowland gorilla. These projects used art, engineering, science and more to tell the tale of endangered species.

“We want every project to result in people taking action,” said Dallas Zoo director of Education, Marti Copeland. “[Their work] exceeded my expectations.”

Learn more about each project:

Western lowland gorilla African elephant

gorilla

The western lowland gorilla team planned to create a gorilla sculpture that looks like it is covered in concrete, emphasizing the habitat destruction that is threatening the animal’s population.

elephant

This team created a mechanical sculpture showing the stride of an adult elephant. An integrated 15 minute countdown clock reminds the public how often an elephant is killed in the wild for its ivory.

Ocelot Hawksbill sea turtle

ocelot

The ocelot team created a sand timer wheel with facts about the carnivore. As you spin the wheel and read the facts about ocelots, the sand timer continually empties, much like the ocelot species in the wild.

hawksbill

The team created a hologram projection of a hawksbill sea turtle swimming. It’s activated with a 3D-printed button. The team tried using living dinoflagellates marine plankton to illuminate the activation button.

The hawksbill sea turtle and African elephant projects were selected by Zoo judges to be scaled up and adapted into public displays at the Children’s Aquarium and Dallas Zoo.

It’s onto the (now) tenth graders to press on with the projects. With the conceptual idea and prototypes created, they must solve more problems like how to scale up the sculptures, make them self-maintaining and safe for the public before eventually debuting the sculptures at the two venues.

Congratulations to the students at Village Tech. We can’t wait to see these larger-than-life projects with important message inside our Zoo and Aquarium gates!

Categories: Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

PART TWO: Gorillas’ health a key part of habitat inspection

Gorilla keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Primate keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Editor’s note: Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. Part Two: The gorilla habitat.

Preparation of the gorilla habitat also begins early every morning, and includes an extra task: Anyone entering the building must don boots, and visitors also must wear rubber gloves and a mask, so no illnesses are passed to the gorillas, or vice versa. Gorillas can catch nearly any ailment that humans can, even the common cold!

Today the primary caretakers responsible for the care of the gorilla habitats are Cindy McCaleb, Primate Keeper, and Sarah Villarreal, Primate Supervisor, both of whom are very familiar with the eight Western lowland gorillas.

Inside the building, one of the volunteers prepares vitamin sandwiches. McCaleb heads out to walk the South habitat, cleaning and checking every corner for branches hanging into the exhibit, toxic plants, or food or trash that may have blown in. She points out squash and tomato plants that have begun growing out of dropped seeds from the gorilla food. Soon, these plants will start bearing fruit, and the gorillas will find a nice treat.

After the initial cleaning is complete, McCaleb circles back and dispenses food. The gorillas’ diet ranges from primate chow to many kinds of fruits and vegetables – these smart animals need a lot of diversity so they don’t tire of any one food. Today’s treat is corn on the cob, hidden away so the gorillas will have fun finding it.

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

After Cindy finishes both sides of the gorilla habitat, she returns to the kitchen. “The busiest time comes first thing in the morning,” she says. First, the keepers say good morning and do a visual check of all three females (Megan, Madge and Shanta) and five males (Zola, Shana, B’wenzi, Juba and Subira). The keepers look carefully for any abnormalities on the bodies of the animals, who range in weight from 175 pounds (Megan) to 430 pounds (B’wenzi).

“That’s where the medical aspect comes in,” McCaleb says. “You have to recognize the signs and know what’s normal and what isn’t.” This is crucial to keeping the gorillas healthy.

One keeper prepares juice and grapes to be used in training sessions, while another begins cleaning the habitats. The gorilla exhibit totals two acres, and sometimes one keeper must clean it all. After finishing, though, another keeper checks it for the safety of staff and animals. As with the big cats, the gorilla keepers also perform a detailed perimeter check.

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

The keepers have a training session with the females and Subira to teach behaviors, such as “open mouth” to check their teeth and “full body checks” for medical management. Then they’re released into their habitat.

The males have their own training session, presenting body parts so keepers can check for injuries or abnormalities, and may sometimes be taught a new behavior. For instance, the keepers have been preparing the gorillas for a cardiac ultrasound, so training includes getting them used to a plastic wand similar in size and feel to the one used in ultrasounds. Because gorillas are more communicative through body language than vocalizations, the keepers will point to the area they want the gorillas to present, in addition to saying it aloud.

After training, the males head into their habitat. But the keepers aren’t done: they quickly start cleaning the inside of the night quarters and prepare food for the next day. They also check the enrichment schedule and set out enrichment items for the gorillas to investigate overnight.

These enrichment items vary, from barrels that dole out small amounts of food when rolled around to raisin boards that act as a sort of puzzle for the gorillas to solve. When the animals come in for the night, they start playing with the enrichment toys immediately. McCaleb has even found them with the barrels on their heads!

The gorillas move around freely in their wooded habitat, designed with moats and secluded areas, which is why they may be harder for the public to spot. “We want to let the gorillas feel they have some sort of control, and they have the choice to move away,” McCaleb says.

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

Decisions such as that result from keepers becoming very close to the gorillas. “You in a sense become a part of the troop,” she adds. “If they like what you’re doing, they rumble – you know you’ve done well when you hear the rumble.”

And the way the keepers behave around the animals is important. “If you come in laid back and relaxed, they’ll be laid back and relaxed, too,” McCaleb explains. “If you come in stressed and tense, it will make them stressed and tense. You have to keep calm when you’re with them.”

24/7/365 dedication

Taking care of animals is a constant job — lions, cheetahs and gorillas don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. Every day, no matter what the weather is or if it’s a holiday, keepers feed and care for their animals.

“We’re here every day, no matter what,” says carnivore keeper Becky Wolf.

The keepers become family, spending most of their time with their animals and each other. And it’s a calling, a labor of love. “It’s the best job in the world,” Wolf adds. “But it’s not a job where you just play with animals – it’s a lot of work.”

A lot of science and research goes into their jobs; keepers at the Dallas Zoo have graduated from college, with degrees varying from biology to zoology to animal studies, even psychology. (McCaleb’s major was social work; she says it helps greatly in identifying animal behavior). Keepers regularly work on projects that involve studying and research.

Keeper Sara Squires began volunteering at the Denver Zoo at age 18 and has been a keeper of hoofstock, hogs, and now lions and cheetahs. She hopes to one day become a behaviorist, which would allow her to still have close contact with the animals.

McCaleb first became interested in gorillas as a child when she saw noted researcher Jane Goodall on television, eventually hearing Goodall speak at her school. She began working at the zoo 15 years ago as a research volunteer, then moved to the animal hospital, then to birds, eventually working her way to gorillas.

It’s a tough job, but a rewarding one.

“People come to this job because they’re so excited to work with the animals,” Cindy says. “They’re so passionate… and that’s what gets you up in the morning.”

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Enrichment, Gorilla, Mammals, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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