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Category — Gorillas

So What’s In A Name?

Last year the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Zoo guests, friends, and followers celebrated the amazing effort that went into “Gladys” the gorilla’s surrogacy project. This work demonstrated the great lengths zoos will go to for their animals as well as the fantastic collaboration between institutions to do what is right and in the best interest of the animal.  This collaboration is the reason the Cincinnati Zoo selected the name Gladys – she was named after the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, where she was born.  Staff is Brownsville selflessly transferred the orphaned one month old baby to Cincinnati because it was best for her. Read previous post about Gladys’ name…

With the birth of “Asha’s” #BabyGorilla on August 4th, we celebrate the even bigger picture of wild gorilla conservation.  Along with all the great work done for gorillas in the North America, the Cincinnati Zoo has participated in wild gorilla conversation for almost 20 years.  The Zoo’s primary focus has been partnering with the Nouabale Ndoki Project (NNP) in the Republic of Congo. The NNP includes the Mbeli Bai Study, the longest running study of the critically endangered wild western lowland gorilla.  Another important part of this work includes an area called Mondika (pronounced Mondeeka).  Here, gorillas are habituated for up close research and for eco tourism.  The Cincinnati Zoo recently helped facilitate the habitation of a second group of gorillas in Mondika and went into a three year agreement to continue the support, which includes habituating a third group.  Habituation is a very important part of the operation, providing keen insight into up close gorilla behavior while leaving people with the inspirational experience of seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitats.

Part of the Cincinnati Zoo’s mission includes inspiring people with wildlife every day and what’s more inspiring than Asha’s new baby?  As we celebrated the great, collaborative,  work done in zoos with the name Gladys, we now celebrate wild gorillas and our efforts to help save them by naming Asha’s new baby “Mondika” .  If the baby turns out to be a boy, his nickname will be “Mondo”.  If the baby is a girl, her nickname will be “Mona”.   We’re really looking forward to watching our little gorilla ambassador grow up and welcome the opportunity to share stories from the wild through little Mondika for many years to come.  Stay tuned for the big “Mondo or Mona” announcement as soon as Asha allows us to have a peek!

August 8, 2014   1 Comment

Asha the Gorilla’s Expected “Little” Bundle of Joy is “Big” Part of a Much Larger Picture.

The Cincinnati Zoo Primate Department provides excellent care for our extended family of about 25 primate species, which includes approximately 70 individuals. A lot of effort goes into their care and proper management. In addition to the basic nutritionally balanced diet, exemplary husbandry, and dynamic environmental enrichment, a comprehensive operant conditioning (OC) program has been in place for more than ten years.  Operant conditioning with positive reinforcement refers to a method of training that incorporates building a trusting relationship with the animals along with a systemic communication technique that allows keepers to cooperatively shape desired behaviors needed from them to make the animals’ lives better.

Primate Department keepers, Stephanie Sauer, Benny Smith and Grace Meloy watch on as keeper/ trainer Ashley Ashcraft places an ultrasound wand to Asha’s abdomen while reinforcing her with grapes.  Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, monitors the images.

Primate Department keepers, Stephanie Sauer, Benny Smith and Grace Meloy watch on as keeper/ trainer Ashley Ashcraft places an ultrasound wand to Asha’s abdomen while reinforcing her with grapes. Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, monitors the images.

For instance through OC training, the Zoo’s Western-lowland gorillas have numerous behaviors that they will offer to aid in evaluating health.  The gorillas will present their hands, feet, ears, bellies, backs, knees, shoulders, open their mouths, and stick out their tongues, all on cue followed by a positive reinforcement, which is usually a favorite food item like grapes.  OC is engaging and mentally stimulating for the gorillas and allows keepers and vets the opportunity to do some important work with them.  The Zoo’s gorillas will also allow cardiac ultrasound imaging work to be done, all voluntarily, while awake, through a protective mesh safely separating the keepers and gorillas. Training techniques are also used to encourage natural behaviors and help form a cohesive social dynamic within the family group.

Primate Keeper, Grace Meloy, and Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, discuss fetal ultrasound images from Asha the gorilla.

Primate Keeper, Grace Meloy, and Reproductive Physiologist, Dr. Erin Curry, discuss fetal ultrasound images from Asha the gorilla.

Recently, we initiated some maternal management behavior training with an expecting gorilla named “Asha”.  One of our primary goals was to do regular fetal ultrasounds throughout the pregnancy.  Early on in the pregnancy, primate keeper Ashley Ashcraft  worked as the primary trainer for this.  As with most of the OC work, the zoo’s wonderful vet techs, Jenny Kroll and Amy Long, were also included to assist with the monitoring, along with additional help from the Zoo’s Lindner Center for Conservation & Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) scientists. Throughout Asha’s gestation we have been able to follow along with fetal development and are still doing ultrasounds once or twice a week as we come down to parturition.  At this point, the fetus is a little too big to see fully on ultrasound but we clearly see a good heartbeat and movement.  Asha, understandably, rests a lot and eats like a horse.  She is still well within the predicted birth period so all is looking good. Gorillas have a gestation period of 250 to 280 days.

Asha will be a first-time mom but has great history with younger siblings, from growing up in Brownsville, Texas.  She has also had the chance to watch little Gladys, with her surrogate mother “Mlinzi”, for additional lessons. The Zoo’s team of volunteer observers are also watching Asha overnight, by remote monitor, just to be extra safe.  The family group Asha currently lives with is very cohesive and lead by the great silverback, named “Jomo,” who is also very good with little ones.

Jomo (formally of the Toronto Zoo) and Asha, along with approximately 360 other gorillas in about 50 zoos, are managed cooperatively through something called a Species Survival Plan(SSP) under the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).   The SSP carefully tracks the genetics of each gorilla, gorilla personalities and facilities, and with critical input from each zoo, develops a comprehensive Masterplan every two years that outlines recommended transfers for breeding, or to help social situations.  Zoos are very altruistic in how they view gorillas and work hard together for the betterment of the overall big picture management.

So, thanks to great team work on the national level, as well as right here at the Cincinnati Zoo, we are prepared and patiently awaiting the birth of Asha’s baby.  Everyone is excited and very hopeful all will continue to go smoothly as we come down to the end.  Stay tuned……

July 31, 2014   1 Comment

Meet Primate Keeper Eric High

Contributor: Ron Evans

Continuing our celebration of National Zoo Keeper Week, we’d like you to meet Eric High, Head Keeper in the Zoo’s Primate Department. Eric has worked at the Zoo for almost 15 years, and he has an incredible work ethic. He sets a “high” bar (pun intended) for his keepers, and leads by strong example.

Zoo Keeper Eric High with baby gorilla Gladys.

Zoo Keeper Eric High with baby gorilla Gladys.

Eric is acutely focused on the myriad of Zoo and departmental missions and goals that have been presented to him, and is instrumental in their development, execution and long term management. Eric was key in facilitating some of the first examples of many programs we practice zoo-wide and are common today. For example, Eric helped usher one of our very first animal department comprehensive operant conditioning programs with gorillas in the early 2000s. It still stands as one of the best in the Zoo.

Additionally, he helped develop and manage one of the very first advertised keeper chats (outside of the Cat, Bird and Elephant shows) at the Zoo, complete with microphones, which at the time scared half the keepers to death to use. He knew it was important to the Zoo’s mission and that it would help set the bar for other departments.

Finally, Eric managed the complicated scheduling of staff working 24/7 during the very challenging Gladys surrogacy project and kept the rest of the Primate Center needs on track while many resources had to be diverted for Gladys.

Eric is one of the rock solid foundation keepers that allow us to maintain current programs while supporting efforts to enhance and grow new ones. If we could clone a bunch of him, we could run this Zoo with about half the staff. The productivity would go way, way up!

July 22, 2014   No Comments