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Category — Gorillas in the Congo

Gorillas: Wet N’ Wild

In the early years of wild gorilla research it was observed that they did not utilized bodies of water much and got most all of their moisture from the succulent vegetation they consumed.  Most of this information came from research being conducted with mountain gorillas. (Gorilla beringei beringei).  Of course a life in the rainforests meant they would frequently get very wet but never were they seen to submerge portions of their bodies into deeper water.  This was very true of mountain gorillas as they lived on very hilly terrain where large pools could not form.

Gorilla Tool use

To the contrary, zoo gorillas have been known for many years to enjoy a dip in their habitat water features and even submerge their heads at times.  One of the classic stories from the vast Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden (CZBG) gorilla history recounts a time when an expecting female gorilla “Amani” climbed down into the shallow water moat in front of the gorilla exhibit out of sight.  When she climbed back up she was carrying her newborn baby.  This baby was named “Kubatiza” which means “baptism” in Swahili.  There have been many enriching episodes involving zoo gorillas and water over the years but it wasn’t until the 90s that more in “depth” (pun intended) observations of wild western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)( the same species housed in zoos) revealed  that gorillas actually do frequent pools of water.

Chewie in the moat at Cincinnati Zoo

Chewie in the moat at Cincinnati Zoo

The longest running research project show casing gorilla water usage is the Mbeli Bai Study in the Republic of Congo. Bais are naturally occurring marshy clearings in the rainforests.  Gorillas come to these bais to wade out into the water to feed on the very mineral rich vegetation floating on the surface, primarily hydrocharis. They spend hours in at the Mbeli Bai  selectively harvesting choice pieces and then carefully stripping it down to eat the tasty pith.

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While congregating in the open clearings, gorillas use the time to work on their social game as well.  Many times two family groups will mingle while the silverbacks representing each group posture and try to impress each other and the ladies of the other’s group.  Sometimes lone bachelor males  show up to spar with other silverbacks through audacious chest beat  displays, augmented with dramatic water splashing.  Occasionally, these swooning efforts pay off and a female might decide to migrate to a different silverback or at least consider the invite until their next meeting.

Chewie 06 8Gorilla splashing

Gorilla splashing

Additionally, the first recorded case of wild gorilla tool use was documented by the Mbeli Bai Study, when a female gorilla modified a stick and used it to measure the depth of the water prior to entering.  Of course as with water play, zoo gorillas have been using sticks and other items as tools to manipulate food out of puzzle feeders for many years but to see this done in the wild with no human influence or prompting was a huge discovery.

Dinka  Watussi

Over the years researchers have identified over 300 different individual gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai, along with forest elephants, yellow-backed duiker, sititunga antelope, buffalo, red river hog, colobus monkeys, crocodiles, otters, African fishing eagles and many other species. They are learning important behavioral and demographic information critical to conserving them and their very threatened Central African rainforest habitat.  CZBG is proud to have supported and partnered with the Mblei Bai Study and related research efforts in North Congo for 15 years.

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Please enjoy this recent update from Mbeli and this video depicting a marshy, muddy, young gorilla seemingly a little put off by being wet and then kind of embracing the fact!

February 10, 2016   No Comments

Keeping Up with Gorilla Conservation in the Republic of Congo

Elle, the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo  (Photo: DJJAM)

Elle, the 50th gorilla born at the Cincinnati Zoo (Photo: DJJAM)

Along with celebrating the 50th gorilla birth this year and announcing big plans to expand the popular Gorilla World habitat, the Cincinnati Zoo will be celebrating 15 years of wild gorilla conservation work with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in 2016.

Mbeli Bai logo

This project, located in the Republic of Congo, umbrellas several very important efforts that help critically endangered wild western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). The Zoo’s original funding for NNP went to the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running field research study on this species of gorilla.  Researchers gather valuable demographic information needed to define what gorillas require to survive as their threatened rainforest habitats continue to shrink. Keep up with the latest news from the Mbeli Bai study by visiting the new web site and blog, following their Facebook page, and reading the most recent newsletter.

Meet Hercules and his mother, Henna, two of the many gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai (Photo: Mbeli Bai Study)

Meet Hercules and his mother, Henna, two of the many gorillas that frequent Mbeli Bai (Photo: Mbeli Bai Study)

Over the years, the Zoo increased its contributions to other gorilla-related projects in this area, including the “Mondika” gorilla tracking study site and an education outreach program for local communities called “Club Ebobo”. Ebobo is the word for gorilla in Lingala, the local language.

As we celebrate the expansion of our gorilla family and facility here at the Zoo, it is important we recognize and celebrate the fine work being done in the field to help conserve this flagship species.

Gladys and Mona enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we're having this month (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

Gladys and Mona enjoying the unseasonably warm weather we’re having this month (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

December 14, 2015   1 Comment

On Endangered Species Day, We Join a Nationwide Effort to Save Animals from Extinction

Today on the 10th anniversary of Endangered Species Day, the Zoo joins the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and hundreds of other AZA-accredited institutions to raise awareness of their efforts to save animals from extinction and launch AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE).

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For decades, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have been leaders in species survival, and are already working to restore more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species.

American bison (Photo: Jack Dykinga)

American bison (Photo: Jack Dykinga)

AZA SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction combines the power of zoo and aquarium visitors with the resources and collective expertise of AZA-accredited institutions and partners to save animals from extinction. Together we are working on saving the most vulnerable wildlife species from extinction and protecting them for future generations. Through SAFE, these institutions will convene scientists and stakeholders globally to identify the factors threatening species, develop Conservation Action Plans, collect new resources and engage the public.

In 2015, SAFE will focus on 10 species and then add an additional 10 species each year for the next 10 years. The inaugural 10 species include: African penguin, Asian elephants, black rhinoceros, cheetah, gorilla, sea turtles, vaquita, sharks and rays, Western pond turtle and whooping crane.

Five of those first 10 species are ones that we care for and display here in Cincinnati, and with which we are involved in conservation efforts.

  • We help save African penguins by supporting the efforts of SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), a leading marine organization that rescues and rehabilitates ill, injured or abandoned African penguins among other threatened seabirds.

    African penguin (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    African penguin (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

  • We support Asian elephant conservation in the wild through the International Elephant Foundation. Here at the Zoo, scientists at our Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) are working with partners to develop a field-friendly technique for collecting and cryopreserving Asian elephant semen to use in artificial insemination.

    Sabu, our male Asian elephant (Photo: David Jenike)

    Sabu, our male Asian elephant (Photo: David Jenike)

  • We support a community education project in Uganda that aims to reintroduce black and white rhinos to their original range in the country.

    Black rhinoceros (Photo: Kathy Newton)

    Black rhinoceros (Photo: Kathy Newton)

  • In addition to being a leader in captive cheetah breeding, the Zoo has supported and participated in many cheetah conservation field projects in Africa over the years. Also, our Cat Ambassador Program educates more than 150,000 people a year about cheetahs through on-site encounters and school outreach programs.

    Cheetah (Photo: Dave Jenike)

    Cheetah (Photo: Dave Jenike)

  • Well known for our breeding success with gorillas, the Zoo also supports the longest-running field study of western lowland gorillas in the wild, the Mbeli Bai study in the Republic of Congo.

    Gorillas (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

    Gorillas (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

 

Help Us Save Animals from Extinction

One of the easiest conservation actions you can take is to visit the Zoo! Doing so directly supports the collaborative efforts of hundreds of researchers, field conservationists and scientists from AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums working to save animals from extinction. So come on out to the Zoo this summer and show your support!

Visitors watch our black rhino run! (Photo:  Mark Dumont)

Visitors watch our black rhino run! (Photo: Mark Dumont)

May 15, 2015   No Comments