Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Animals

It’s Good to be a Three-year-old Gorilla!

It’s hard to believe, but Gladys the gorilla turns three years old today!  Since arriving at the Cincinnati Zoo as a one-month-old orphan, we have had one fun and fulfilling adventure with her.  However, Gladys has a lot of adventures still to come on her long road to adulthood.

Soon to be three years old, it's Gladys! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Soon to be three years old, it’s Gladys! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

As with people, gorillas take a long time to grow up. For females, it takes about 10 years to mature, and for males, it takes 13 to 15 years!  During these years, they go through several stages, each one building on the previous stage.  Until they are three years old, gorillas are referred to as babies and they are dependent on their mothers for nourishment.  They will start sampling solid foods by around one to three months old, but will nurse from mom for three to four years.  The amount they nurse will gradually flip-flop with solid consumption over those years.

Gorillas are born with very little natural instincts. Unlike a snake or spider that pretty much know everything they will need to survive the second they hatch, gorillas have many learned skills they must acquire over many years. Gorillas have over 13 different vocalizations and inflections, along with many facial expressions and body postures that form a complex language. They start learning this language from day one.  They have rules of social etiquette to learn as well as survival skills about where to go or not go, what to eat and what to embrace or fear.  Baby gorillas build their motor skills and strength during this stage as well, all setting the foundation for the next phase.

Gladys hangs with her bestie, Mona (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys hangs with her bestie, Mona (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Between three and six years old, a gorilla has pretty much moved out of the “baby” phase and is considered a juvenile. They are no longer dependent on their mothers for milk and rely solely on solid foods.  Although they still need their mothers and families for comfort and protection at times, three-year-old gorillas have more confidence to explore even further and spend long periods away from mom. They enjoy a new level of relatively carefree freedom while learning a few harder life lessons along the way.  Their personalities begin to become more defined during this stage.

Between six and 10 years old, gorillas are referred to as sub-adults. They are still not fully grown physically.  The carefree playfulness of being a juvenile is augmented by more adult-like interactions and experiences.  Sub-adults learn to shape breeding postures though regular wrestling and playing bouts, although females do not reproduce in the wild until they are about 10 years old.  By now, they have very distinctive personalities formed by previous experiences that will greatly influence their futures.  There is a clear hierarchy within gorilla society.  The pecking order is set based on many factors including the status of their mothers, intelligence, physical size and political savvy.  During the sub-adult stage, young gorillas work very hard to establish their social status through both positive interaction and aggression as they define their individuality even more.

Gladys, just relaxing (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys, just relaxing (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

By 10 years old, gorillas are considered adults.  Females may have migrated from their natal groups to improve their social life with a new family. They become new mothers and begin teaching young gorillas how to become adults.  At 10 years old, males most likely have been driven from their natal group by their father as they have become too rambunctious and challenging to the cohesiveness of the family.  Ten-year-old males are keenly interested in breeding, but are not quite mature or physically impressive enough to attract females so they go through an extra stage called “blackback”.  During this stage, blackbacks may live as solitary males or find other blackbacks to hang out with in a bachelor group, kind of like a gorilla YMCA.

By the age of 15 years, blackbacks have grown into their full size and are now called silverbacks.  All male gorillas become silverbacks.  Silverbacks, of course, get a silver coloration on their backs and develop large musculature on their heads.  This enhanced sagittal crest and large body size, combined with a silverback’s specific personality, can attract females.  Once a gorilla has reached a full silverback stage, he can acquire females in his group and start his own family.

Gladys is so excited about her birthday! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys is so excited about her birthday! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

So as Gladys reaches the juvenile gorilla stage milestone, it’s fun to review where she has been and look forward to what is in store on her long road to becoming an adult. We’ll watch her personality take further shape through positive and challenging life experiences. The bottom line is three years old is a great age to be a gorilla, especially when you have two younger sisters to go on the adventure with!

January 29, 2016   4 Comments

Sara. Remembrance of a life well lived.

By: Cathryn Hilker, Founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program

cathryn_sarah2

Cathryn and Sara in 2000

As so many cheetahs before her, Sara came to live on our Mason farm when she was 5 weeks old. We intended to raise her with an Anatolian shepherd dog so she could have a companion for herself but also a companion who could speak to the program of wildlife management in Namibia where these dogs are widely used for predator control.  Captive cheetah are often raised with a dog, as they make excellent companions, but not always. As soon as this little cheetah named Sara saw our little Anatolian puppy the cat attacked the dog with such a ferocious attitude that I had to separate them.  Their relationship became even worse over the next several days until I sent the puppy back and got a much bigger and older Anatolian dog. This change worked well and Sara and Alexa where lifelong companions.  They did school shows, summer shows, tv appearances and much more until Alexa retired, leaving Sara to continue alone. Upstairs she went, downstairs, elevators, moving stairs. She did all that and more, never failing to do her part.

puppypals

Sara and her companion Lexi

The joy of running is in the heart and the ancient memory of every cheetah. Sara was no different. At home in her first few weeks we only did short runs in her fenced in yard but the day came when I wanted to see how much Sara could do. I was there with her when the joy and the play of running suddenly turned serious for her.  It was a Reds baseball cap that triggered her natural instinct to run with utter resolution. To chase, to catch, to hold. I could hardly get the cap away from her. Then she knew what running meant to the cheetah. It made her break her own record for speed, when the National Geographic filmed her, at age 11, running 61 mph. 100 meters in 5.95 seconds.

sarah

She will be remembered by thousands of school children who heard her loud purr or heard her nails clicking on the table top where she stayed during the program. My memories are imprinted in my heart and mind of a tiny brave little cheetah who grew up and turned into the elegant animal that the mature cheetah is. The claw marks from her tiny little claws when she was a cub remain on my bedspread to this day and the hole she chewed through my zoo jacket and the awkward job I did of sewing it up will remain there for the rest of my life.

sarah_spots_lo

photo by Jill Halpin

We will miss Sara’s eyes, fixed on our eyes, always asking “what next”?  Indeed Sara, what next, in your giant shadow of grace other cheetahs will follow your lead and our race to educate and tell your story so that your species can always be, waiting to answer “what next”.

January 22, 2016   38 Comments

Happy Penguin Awareness Day!

To celebrate everyone’s favorite feathered friends, let me introduce you to all five species of penguins that call the Cincinnati Zoo home:

Penguin-cheat-sheetThe areas highlighted in yellow on the range maps show where each of these penguin species is found in the wild. As you can see, while all of our penguins hail from the Southern Hemisphere, not all of them live in cold, harsh climates. In fact, three out of the five species we have prefer the warmer weather of Africa, South America, and Australia/New Zealand. Believe it or not, there is even a tropical species that lives on the Equator; the Galapagos penguin (though we don’t exhibit that species at the Zoo).

You might think that climate change wouldn’t be a big problem for the warm weather penguins since they are already used to the heat. It’s true that the Antarctic species suffer directly from melting ice and the die-off of krill, their primary prey, but the African penguin may be in bigger trouble. Even though it lives in a warmer climate and doesn’t live on ice, the African penguin still relies on a cold ocean current to bring its favorite fish, sardines and anchovies, within reach. As the ocean temperature rises, the cold stream moves farther away from the islands off Africa where the penguins live and makes it more difficult to find enough food.

Add to that the threats of oil spills and guano collection, which disturbs natural nest sites, and you can see why the African penguin population has declined more than 60% in the past 30 years. That’s one reason why zoos are coming together to strengthen their efforts to save the African penguin.

African penguin (Photo: Mathias Appel)

African penguin (Photo: Mathias Appel)

The African penguin is one of 10 wildlife species the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) has committed to saving through the AZA SAFE initiative. Through AZA SAFE, AZA and its members will convene scientists and stakeholders to identify the threats, develop action plans, raise new resources and engage the public in saving the selected species.

A Conservation Action Plan is currently under development for the African penguin  and will focus on the following actions:

  • Develop appropriate types and numbers of artificial nests for all colonies; facilitate long-term monitoring to assess success.
  • Expand monitoring of resident and reintroduced penguin inter-colony movement, nest site fidelity, and survival.
  • Expand monitoring of penguin foraging and other movement patterns in the marine environment.
  • Measure baseline environmental and animal-absorbed contaminant levels and conduct long-term monitoring to assess changes as oil drilling increases.
  • Strengthen disaster response and penguin rescue and rehabilitation capabilities across all colonies.

AZA_SAFE_penguin_880x440

In the last three years alone, 20 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums contributed about $95,000 to African penguin conservation efforts, but we need to do more. That requires us to partner with organizations on the ground saving penguins in the field. One such organization is SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), which the Cincinnati Zoo supports with funds raised from our Saving Species and VIPenguin Experience programs.

SANCCOB is a leading marine organization that has treated more than 90 000 oiled, ill, injured or abandoned African penguins and other threatened seabirds since being established in 1968. SANCCOB is an internationally recognized leader in oiled wildlife response, rehabilitation and chick-rearing; contributes to research which benefits seabirds; trains people to care for the birds and educates the public to appreciate this unique heritage. Independent research confirms that the wild African population is 19% higher directly due to SANCCOB’s efforts, and we are proud to work with them. Learn more about the great work they’re doing in this video.

SANCCOB releases rehabilitated penguins (Photo: SANCCOB)

SANCCOB releases rehabilitated penguins (Photo: SANCCOB)

 

January 20, 2016   No Comments