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Category — Keeper’s Komments

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   2 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

A Mondika Message from Ron Evans, Curator of Primates

baby gorilla mondika

Baby Gorilla “Mondika,” aka “Mona”

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is committed to sharing inspirational stories about our animals and connecting our friends and followers to wildlife every day. We celebrated this in 2014 by naming our newest baby gorilla “Mondika” after a fantastic place in the Republic of Congo doing gorilla-related conservation. The effort in Mondika is part of a larger program called the Nouabale-Ndoki Project (NNP) with which the Cincinnati Zoo has partnered for many years. Please check this blog for regular reports on our little ambassador Mondika, aka “Mona”, along with interesting updates on the great work being done in Congo to save the critically-endangered western lowland gorilla.

Asha and Mondika (Photo: Michelle Curley)

Asha and Mondika (Photo: Michelle Curley)

In August 2014, the Zoo enjoyed the birth of our 49th gorilla, Mona. This birth was significant in many ways. It was a genetically valuable match of father “Jomo” and mother “Asha”.  Zoos do not take gorillas from the wild and haven’t done so in many decades. Zoos work hard to protect wild gorillas while raising awareness at home. So zoos must be careful to properly manage all the gorillas they have. This is accomplished through great cooperation between institutions and overseen by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP). The SSP keeps track of all 350 gorillas in North America and makes recommendations for their management based on genetics, behavior and input from zoos.

Asha is a first time mother and did a wonderful job, which is also significant. It’s very important that a baby gorilla be raised by its mother to learn all the coping skills it will need to be socially happy throughout their lives. Her successful skills as a mother can be attributed to her good history having been raised herself in a normal gorilla family group with a good mother, siblings and a tolerant silverback at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, TX. After reaching a mature age and transferring from her natal group to the Cincinnati Zoo, Asha was slowly integrated into the family of gorillas here, led by silverback Jomo. Once she was comfortable with her position in the group, she was removed from birth control and allowed to conceive. It’s very important for a gorilla to give birth in a comfortable atmosphere that is conducive to the security needed for good mother-rearing. Mona is now about five months old and is still doing fantastic; she has a long bright future at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Unfortunately, Mona’s wild counterparts in the rainforests of Central Africa have more uncertain futures. Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are a critically endangered species and face many challenges due to rapid habitat loss among others. The good news is there are a lot of great people, places and organizations who really care, like the Cincinnati Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Nouabale-Ndoki Project (NNP). For approximately 15 years, the Zoo and the NNP have partnered to help protect this flagship species for conservation. The NNP is located in the Republic of Congo and has several gorilla-related efforts going on, including the following.

-          Mondika is a site where researchers habituate wild gorilla families for up close daily detailed observation and provide visitors with an inspirational opportunity to see these magnificent animals up close.

-          The Mbeli Bai Study is the longest-running research project being done on wild western lowland gorillas. Bais are naturally occurring swampy clearings in the rain forests. At Mbeli Bai, researchers spend eight hours a day on an elevated observation platform year-round observing about 300 different gorillas that enter this area to forage and socialize, in addition to a myriad of other species like forest elephants, sititunga antelope and buffalo. Eco-tourism is also available at this site.

Observation tower at Mbeli Bai

Observation tower at Mbeli Bai

Gorilla group at Mbeli Bai

Gorilla group at Mbeli Bai

-          The Goualougo Triangle Ape Study covers an expansive area researching both gorillas and chimpanzees. They utilize wide grid census collection, incorporating state of the art camera trapping that produces wonderful candid and rare wildlife images and video.

-          Club Ebobo is the education component for the NNP, connecting children and the local people to conservation of their natural heritage.

Kids participating in Club Ebobo

Kids participating in Club Ebobo

Looking forward to bringing you more Mondika Messages throughout the year!

January 8, 2015   3 Comments