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Category — Gorillas

The Power of Connections: Endangered Species Day

Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters

There are currently 16,306 plants and animals listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). That’s more people than visit our Zoo on a typical spring day.

It’s Endangered Species Day, so you might hear a lot of shocking numbers like this, which could understandably put a damper on your day. If you wanted to make a difference, which of the 16,000+ would you even choose to start with? Well, you don’t have to choose. All plant and animal life is interconnected, which means that by taking small actions that support a healthy ecosystem, you can benefit all species, including our own!

If you’re visiting our blog, you’re probably passionate about animals and the environment. That passion gives you power. Let’s look at how you can harness your power to make Endangered Species Day the start of significant change.

What does “endangered” actually mean?

It’s a good idea to first understand what we mean by the term. In the 1990s, the IUCN developed the Red List of Threatened Species™, widely recognized as the standard for evaluating a plant or animal’s risk of extinction. They rank species along a continuum from “least concern,” to “vulnerable,” followed by “endangered,” the more serious “critically endangered,” and finally, “extinct.” Watch this video to learn more.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also maintains a list of endangered species, as do state and local agencies. Around our Zoo and others, you might see signs that display an animal’s IUCN classification. For example, you’ll see that the red pandas are considered “vulnerable,” while the black rhinos are “critically endangered.”

Black rhino (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Black rhino (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Taking action

As we’ve said, one positive environmental action holds the potential to affect a lot of different areas. We’re all living on the same planet, so shopping with reusable bags here in Cincinnati really does have ripple effects for polar bears in the Arctic!

Here at the Zoo, you can bring us your old cell phone for recycling, which reduces the need for mining metals in endangered gorilla habitat to make new ones. Go a step further by collecting phones at your school or around your neighborhood.

Western lowland gorillas (Photo: Mark Dumont)

Western lowland gorillas (Photo: Mark Dumont)

You can also support our many conservation field efforts. Cheetahs, western lowland gorillas, and keas are just a few of the species we’re actively involved with conserving in the wild. When we work to protect these animals’ habitats, we also benefit countless other species with whom they share space.

You don’t need to limit your choices to those you can carry out at the Zoo. Change can begin in your own backyard…literally. Plant native plant species in your yard. They’ll attract native insects which, in turn, will attract other native species that eat them, and native species that eat them. More pollinating insects means more native plants and, you see, the cycle really gets going!

Good news

As a team, organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), like ours, have made strides in restoring more than 30 species to healthy wild populations, including the American bison, the California condor and a variety of aquatic species. (Read more about AZA efforts here.)

There has been good news just over the past year. In 2015, the IUCN moved the Iberian lynx from “critically endangered” to the less severe “endangered.” The Guadalupe fur seal went from “threatened” down to “least concern.” The global community has taken new interest in restricting trophy hunting thanks, in part, to the publicity surrounding Cecil the lion’s tragic death. Change can happen.

And just last week, we received good news for a critically endangered species that is near and dear to our hearts, the Sumatran rhino. A female rhino calf was born on May 12 at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS) in Indonesia. The calf’s father, Andalas, was born here at the Zoo in 2001 and moved to the SRS in 2007. With fewer than 100 Sumatran rhinos left on the planet, this birth is significant for the species, and we are proud to have played a part in it.

Ratu and her newborn calf (Photo: Stephen Belcher)

Ratu and her newborn calf (Photo: Stephen Belcher)

There are infinite choices you can make to promote positive change, but you’ll be most successful if you start with one or two that really speak to you. You’ll help ensure that currently endangered animals are still around for your children and grandchildren to enjoy and, more importantly, you’ll improve life on Earth for all of us.

And be sure to tell your friends and family. The power of your passion is contagious!

“The quality of our life on this earth is dependent on how we treat the rest of life on Earth. We have a moral responsibility to look after the rest of the world, the future of which now lies in our hands.”  –David Attenborough

May 20, 2016   2 Comments

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

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