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Category — Exhibits

Samantha: The Grand Old Lady of the Cincinnati Zoo

Today we celebrate Samantha the gorilla’s 45th birthday!

Sam and Samantha

Sam and Samantha

There are about four reptiles living at the Zoo today that have estimated ages older than Samantha, but she is the oldest animal with a confirmed birth date and the oldest non-reptile. Daughter of the legendary founder gorillas King Tut and Penelope, Samantha was born here on January 31, 1970. She and another gorilla, Sam, were born about a week apart and they were the first two gorilla babies born and raised at the Cincinnati Zoo. They were hand raised with the assistance of Good Samaritan Hospital, hence the names Sam and Samantha.They were huge celebrities featured in dozens of articles, photos, postcards and fanfare.

Samantha has been here to experience all of the changes in philosophy that have transformed the Zoo from an old school menagerie to a modern day zoo. Born in the old Ape House in 1970 where the gorillas lived inside year round, Samantha moved to the first naturalistic outdoor gorilla habitat anywhere, Gorilla World, in 1978.

Gorilla World (Photo: Dave Jenike)

Gorilla World (Photo: Dave Jenike)

She has experienced innovations in animal nutrition from a high fruit-based diet to today’s high variety bulky green fiber-rich nutritionally balanced diet. She has also experienced the start of comprehensive animal enrichment efforts at the Zoo that provide for animal welfare as much as their physical needs. Over 10 years ago, she was here when we began formal operant conditioning programs at the Zoo as well.

Samantha has also experienced the change over from primarily pulling baby gorillas for hand-rearing to encouraging mother-rearing through improved husbandry and social behavior management. She is the best mother gorilla in the history of the Zoo and has given birth to six gorillas. Samantha’s first daughter, Madge, was born in the early 1980s. She was named after the late great iconic long time Zoo Volunteer Madge Van Buskirk.

Samantha with one of her six babies

Samantha with one of her six babies

Probably the most intelligent gorilla at the Zoo, Samantha is one of the most socially savvy gorillas, too. She has long been the strong matriarchal leader no matter which individuals are in her group. Samantha has lived with over 36 individual gorillas including: Sam, Gigi, Ramses, Kamari, Amani, Rosie, Penelope, Hatari, Tara, Mahari, Bibi, Madge, Muke, Mlinzi, Babec, Ndume, Kweli, Harry, Jackie, Tufani, Colossus, Kima Kubwa, Chaka, Samson, Chewie, Mara, Kijito, Kicho, Cecil, Shanta, Jomo, Bakari, Asha, Anju, Gladys and Mondika. In recent years, she has toned her leadership role back some, but is still respected among the other gorillas.

Samantha has served as an inspirational ambassador for both ex situ and in situ gorilla conservation programs and she is revered among the primate staff and her followers. I even named my daughter after her. (By the way, if you ever should name your daughter after a gorilla, apparently you should not tell her fourth grade class that fact during a visit to the Zoo. I thought it was cool, but being called “gorilla girl” by mean little boys can be a hard thing to live with, I hear.)

At 45 years old, Samantha still seems to be going strong. She is engaged in all of our programs, including operant conditioning, and is one of the best students. In recent years, she has been trained for awake cardiac ultrasound exams and the ticker is looking good. Samantha has seen it all and hopefully she sticks around for a long while to see a whole lot more.

Samantha and her son, Samson

Samantha and her son, Samson

January 31, 2015   1 Comment

Great Gardens at the Zoo

Guest blogger: Zoo Academy Student, Elaina Allen

Here at the Cincinnati Zoo we have a lot of fascinating animals to look at from leaf-cutting ants to Asian elephants. However there is more to the Cincinnati Zoo; the Zoo is also known for its amazing plant displays. One plant display in particular that I will be discussing is the amazing Dinosaur Garden located outside of the front entrance of Reptile House on the right side near Monkey Island.

The Dinosaur Garden was designed in the 1970s through 1980s around the time the Zoo also became a botanical garden. A botanical garden is an establishment where plants are grown for display to the public and often for educational study. The purpose of the Dinosaur Garden in particular is to convey knowledge to the visitor about the prehistoric plants that lived around the same time as the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Garden (Photo: Elaina Allen)

Dinosaur Garden (Photo: Elaina Allen)

One thing interesting you can find inside the garden is the Araucarioxylon arizonicum or the petrified log. When a plant is fossilized it is considered petrified. The Araucarioxylon arizonicum is an extinct species of conifer that is known for its massive tree trunks.

Petrified log, Araucarioxylon arizonicum  (Photo: Elaina Allen)

Petrified log, Araucarioxylon arizonicum (Photo: Elaina Allen)

My favorite species to look at while in the area is the China Fir because this tree has pointy needles, which is an adaptation to defend itself against large animals such as dinosaurs.

China fir (Photo: Lazaregagnidze)

China fir (Photo: Lazaregagnidze)

Observing the Dinosaur Garden you will notice that some of the plants come and go, depending on the season. The Horticulture staff makes sure to maintain and keep up with the changes in the weather, and also the requirements or needs of the plants in the garden. Horticulture is the art of garden cultivation and management. The staff in the Horticulture department maintains any appropriate plant species throughout the Zoo.

So next time you decide to visit the Zoo, check out the Dinosaur Garden and the many other plant displays. You won’t regret it!

January 23, 2015   21 Comments

Dog Log: Puppies, Puppies and More Puppies!

A very pregnant Imara

A very pregnant Imara with mate Brahma

It’s official folks! Our pair of African painted dogs, Imara and Brahma, are now a pack! Early on Monday, January 5, keepers observed Imara having contractions. Eight minutes later, the first pup was born and the new mama didn’t stop until almost 10pm that night. Normal time intervals between each birth are 30-90 minutes and Imara followed that almost exactly.

Two-year-old Imara came to Cincinnati this past summer from the Oglebay Good Zoo in Wheeling, West Virginia and eight-year-old Brahma, came to us from Zoo New England in Boston. The first time parents have done an exceptional job taking care of all the little ones. It’s a bit of a surprise considering neither of our dogs had a “traditional” upbringing.  Imara was hand reared when her mother didn’t take care of her litter and Brahma had spent the majority of his life with just his 2 brothers.

Brahma entering the box

Brahma enters the den to check on Imara and pups

We are ecstatic that these 2 dogs have taken to parenthood so quickly and easily. Captive African painted dog females aren’t necessarily well known for being the best mothers, but when they do what they are supposed to, they are phenomenal parents. What’s even more special is that although the males will help in varying degrees, for example guarding the nest box and bringing the female food, Brahma went above and beyond what would be considered typical male behavior. He actually groomed almost every single puppy as Imara delivered them and aided her with the removal of the placenta (which normally the females handle all by themselves).

I must admit, when we introduced Imara and Brahma, it was so anticlimactic that I wondered if they would just be buddies. You could tell that they would get along fine, but Brahma was way more into Imara than she was into him. Just because you put a male and female together, it doesn’t guarantee they will breed. In the wild, the alpha female will choose a mate, giving him breeding rights and alpha male status within the pack. In captivity, the females don’t always have the option. However, it is very clear that these 2 dogs were meant to be parents. And fantastic parents at that!

We still have a long road ahead of us. The first couple of months are the most critical. African painted dogs are a sensitive and somewhat fragile species, but if the last few days are any indication, this litter will help increase the number of dogs in the captive population and also increase their genetic diversity. At this time, when captive African painted dog numbers (in North America) are low, every dog counts. These puppies will grow up to be ambassadors to their wild counterparts and will hopefully inspire people to help save this endangered species. For now, we will enjoy the dog pile, or in this case “squirming puppy pile”, as they continue to grow and learn from Imara and Brahma how to be the charismatic African painted dogs they were meant to be!

Imara and pups

Imara and pups

January 12, 2015   7 Comments