Kigali (pronounced “Key-gal-ee”) is the newest female Western Lowland Gorilla to call the Sedgwick County Zoo home. Kigali is nineteen years old and was born at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She can be distinguished from Kivu by her smaller size and darker hair. Since everything in Wichita is new for her, she can best be described as curious. Kigali enjoys interacting with keepers and happily participates in training sessions. She is also quite the looker and everyone has noticed. As the other boy gorillas see her, a few have become infatuated with her. Even going so far as to park themselves where they can see her clearly and not go where keepers need them to. Matt is not so fond of other boys looking at his ladies but we are confident that with time, everyone will adjust and things will go back to normal.
Kigali arrived in Wichita on October 17th. Her transfer was part of a Species Survival Plan recommendation. Senior keeper of gorillas, Danielle, went out to D.C. about a week before the move to get to know Kigali. Then on October 15th, Kigali, Danielle and a keeper from the National Zoo loaded up into a special moving trailer and started the long journey.
She was brought straight to the gorilla building and immediately began her 30 day quarantine period. Kigali has been with her natal, or family, group since she was born. So this was her first big trip away from home. Keepers started acclimating her to the routine from the very beginning, as is normal anytime a gorilla is new to the area. We wanted to accomplish this slowly since everything was new to her. And like the champ she is, Kigali, or Kigs as the keepers call her, did great.
After she was clear of quarantine, we began to introduce her to the rest of the gorilla building and the other gorillas that would become her new family. Her first introduction was to Kivu, the first female gorilla to come to the Zoo. Up until this point there had always been a solid barrier between them. Then a part of the door was taken down and they had contact with the mesh barrier in between them. Zookeepers call this a “howdy” introduction. Kigali went immediately to the door to greet Kivu. She definitely missed being around other gorillas. Kivu was slightly more aloof but not completely disinterested. Kivu had some moving experience already, so we were confident that she would help Kigali adjust once they had full contact, which was definitely the case. When they were finally given full access to one another, Kigali’s first action was to go over and hug Kivu. Unfortunately for her, Kivu wasn’t quite that interested in being best friends yet. Kivu tolerated Kigali in her space as long as she stayed approximately arm’s length away. Keepers expected Kigali to push Kivu around some; so to have pretty much the opposite occur was surprising. Overall, it was still considered very successful. After about two days the girls were together permanently and it was decided to introduce Matt.
Introducing a family group is slightly different than introducing girls or even bachelor males. This is Matt’s first time being the silverback in a family group. Because Kigali is younger, a little more agile and louder than Kivu, her introduction with Matt was a little tenser. There was some yelling and chasing. As expected, Kivu did come to Kigali’s defense. It was great to see the girls had bonded so well. These are all very normal reactions during gorilla introductions. Matt has to exert himself as the silverback and let the girls know he’s in charge; or that they at least let him think he is. The yelling only really occurred on the first day of introductions with Matt. With each subsequent day of intros, the group became more confident with one another. Once keepers were sure of the bond the girls had and that the group’s confidence level was high, the determination was made to leave them together overnight. A calm, quiet night is a sure sign that a family’s bond has been established. A direct quote from the night keeper watching over them, “I saw Kigali sleeping in a hammock for the first time since she arrived.” Kigali’s normal nest spot had been up in one of the transfer chutes that lead from room to room. This definitely told us all was well with Matt’s new family.
The next step for the new family was to let them out to the exhibits. Matt and Kivu had been kept inside since Kigali’s arrival so they could get to know each other. Because Kigali hadn’t seen the indoor exhibit at all; we thought it would be best to give the girls a chance to go out first. However, the group’s bond was stronger than we thought and the girls would not leave the house without Matt. So we gave Matt access to his girls again and after about 15 minutes of not being certain of her new playground, Kigali was out and exploring! We closed the door and the family spent the whole day relaxing and enjoying the treats the keepers had put out on exhibit for them.
Matt, Kivu and Kigali will be kept on the indoor exhibit for the next several days to allow Kigali more time to become familiar with it. After that, we will go back to the normal routine of rotating the different gorilla groups through the exhibits. The entire team at The Downing Gorilla Forest is very excited because our family group is doing so well! The keepers are asked frequently when we can expect babies. The answer to that is: with time. Kigali still needs to be introduced to the outside exhibit and get more comfortable with a normal rotating routine. Our hope is that as things settle, nature will take its course. We promise to keep everyone posted. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to come out and meet Kigali and see the family together.
Growing up as an identical twin, my sister and I often got a thorough side-by-side comparison while people tried to pick out our differences in order to tell us apart. The usual verdict: I have a mole on my neck and my sister has a slight indentation on her forehead, so forever engrained in my mind is mole = Micala and dent = Danelle.
Similarly, as a relief keeper working all over the zoo, I must be able to easily distinguish between individual animals. Some are easy to tell apart, while others are much harder. A while back I started realizing how many animals have heart-shaped markings, so I thought I'd put together a photo collection of them in time for Valentine's Day.
Twiga, our 17-year-old female giraffe, has a heart-shaped spot on both sides of her neck. She is a regular at the feeding station and is often seen down in the moat surrounding their exhibit, munching grass as far as she can reach.
Michael, our adolescent male lion, has a heart-shaped rub mark on his forehead. We used this marking to tell him and his brother apart when they were cubs. Michael and his mate, Kianga, are on exhibit alternately with our other pride of 3 lions.
Wilbur, our zebra stallion, has a white heart on his chest. This marking made it simple to tell him apart from his son at a glance. He is usually housed in an off exhibit area and our females are on exhibit.
Zuza, our 21-year-old male gorilla, is our newest addition to the gorilla building. His nose forms a heart. Gorillas are often distinguished by their nose shapes since they are as unique as fingerprints. Next time you visit the zoo, take note how different the gorillas’ noses are.
Molly is one of our female Nigerian Dwarf Goats found in the African Farm. She has a heart-shaped outline on her right side.
Kiowa is our 11-year-old male pronghorn. Pronghorns have white, heart-shaped rumps. When they are startled and run away, this white fur stands on its end.
All of the Sedgwick County Zoo animals would LOVE for you to come and visit them for Valentine's Day! See if you can spot any more heart-shaped markings that I may have missed. Happy Valentine's Day!
Written by: Micala, Zookeeper
Zuza explores his new home
Whenever a new animal comes to the zoo and completes their quarantine process they are then systematically introduced to the entire exhibit and holding areas of the Zoo. At the Downing Gorilla Forest this includes bedrooms, off-exhibit dayroom, public dayroom, and outdoor exhibit for the gorillas. Zuza was introduced to each area slowly to get him accustomed to his new home.
The first area Zuza got acquainted with after his quarantine period was the bedrooms. The bedrooms consist of eight conjoined rooms and four overhead chutes. He calmly explored every area of the bedrooms and slowly grew comfortable with all the climbing options. His exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo didn’t have as many climbing options as ours does so this was an adjustment process for him. He learned the ropes and became comfortable quickly. Zuza really enjoys tossing his toys into the overhead chutes and running up behind them making as much noise as he can. Once he was comfortable in the gorilla bedrooms the introduction to the off-exhibit dayroom began.
The first day he had access to the off-exhibit dayroom he cautiously walked out into the room within the first five minutes. He readily made his way around checking out every area, then calmly returned to the bedrooms as if to say ok, that’s neat but I am done now. This went on for several days until we felt he was comfortable enough to be locked out on the exhibit for a few hours.
Next, he was introduced to the public dayroom. He left the bedrooms without hesitation this time as if he had figured out the process. Then he went straight for the windows to see our guests for the first time. He scanned across the windows like he was taking a mental note of where the people where standing, grabbed a toy, and began charging around the exhibit hitting every window where people where standing with his wrist. The keeper staff noticed that this became a game for Zuza to see just how many people he could startle. Once Zuza was comfortable in the public dayroom he began spending most of his time just hanging out with guests at the glass barrier. He sometimes stands up, presses his nose to the glass and exhales just to fog up the glass where the guests are standing.
The last and most complex introduction was to the outdoor gorilla yard. This yard contains a dry moat as a barrier and what we call hot grass and hot wire to help establish boundaries. Hot grass and wire contain a slight electrical charge; this sensation is enough to make a gorilla uncomfortable, like rubbing your socks on the carpet and then getting a little static shock. Gorillas are intelligent creatures and after touching these things one time they typically don’t do it again, it’s unpleasant and not worth the time. So before we put a new animal into an exhibit with these types of boundaries we must first mark these boundaries with something that stands out like yellow caution tape. The bright color serves as a warning to watch out for that stuff since it blends in with the plants. This works extremely well with most animals in general. After the yard was prepared and the boundaries brightly marked, Zuza was introduced to the yard. It took him several days to feel comfortable enough to step out into the exhibit and explore. We gave him his space and let him take his time and about a week later he was comfortable being locked outside for the day. When you see him outside he will usually be hanging out by the pool or in the shade. Zuza has acclimated well to all of our exhibit areas and has his own unique ways to interact with our guests.
Written by: Ashley, Zookeeper
Another Handsome Bachelor Arrives
You may have noticed a new face at the Downing Gorilla Forest recently. Around February 2010 we received news of a lone bachelor gorilla in need of a new home. Cincinnati Zoo received a recommendation that Zuza should move in with us. The staff at DGF where excited for the new addition and the planning to move Zuza began.
Zuza was born at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo and spent the first two years of his life being hand raised by zoo staff. Then on July 24,1993 was introduced to a surrogate group in Pittsburg, PA. He stayed in this troop until he was eleven years old. As male gorillas reach maturity in the wild they start to leave their family troop to start a family of their own. When Zuza’s time came the decision was made to move him to Cincinnati Zoo to be introduced to a troop of three females. On March 13, 2008 Zuza was relocated to Cincinnati Zoo to meet his new group. As introductions proceeded, the girls showed their flirty side, while Zuza ran away screaming. The staff at Cincinnati began to see a trend in his behavior; he was uneasy around the girls. This handsome guy was ‘afraid’ of female gorillas, yet showed little reaction towards the silverback of Cincinnati’s already established family troop. This is abnormal for a gorilla of Zuza’s age, so after doing some research keepers discovered that he grew up with a female who acted as a disciplinarian. On the other hand, the silverback in his original family troop was very laid back. Perhaps he had learned that girls are just bad news because they are so strict. After this discovery the decision was made to move him to our all bachelor facility.
Two keepers from the Downing Gorilla Forest (DGF) began the journey to bring Zuza to his new home here in Wichita around the middle of April 2010. DGF keepers took a three-day trip to Cincinnati. Two days for driving and one day to get to know Zuza before we brought him back. Zuza was immobilized in Cincinnati and given a quick health check then placed in a gorilla proof crate. Once he was awake, we began the thirteen-hour drive to his new home began. Zuza was very relaxed during the move and staff monitored him frequently, providing him with food and water.
The next morning the introduction process to his new home began. Zuza has adapted very well to our keeper staff and exhibits. He seems to enjoy his new home. So when you see a handsome new face alone in one of our exhibits there’s a good chance it’s Zuza. We hope, one day, we will be able to integrate him into one of our established bachelor troops; however, these things take time and patience, as we must find the right fit for everyone.
Entry by Ashley Suttles, Keeper
September 2010 – Akia is such a big boy now, he can now reach the adult’s alfalfa feeder and has been partaking in the new tasty food. He has gotten so big, that we had to figure out a new way to weigh him because he has literally taken a stand and will not step up onto the new platform, so we haven’t gotten a weight on him for some time now. We will start using the adult weighing board and see how that goes.
On September 28, Akia got his first sighting of zoo guests. There were several steps the keeper staff had to complete for Akia’s big day to the exihibit. We started shifting (moving him from stall to stall) in the barn to get him use to going to different areas. Then we placed some yellow plastic strips around to mark various aspects of the exhibit, like the fence and water moat. This way, he can learn the exhibit boundries easily. Even though he has found his running legs, when he walked out onto the exhibit he was very calm and explored the exhibit with caution and enthusiasm. On the second day, he got to interact more with our other female named Panya. He was excited to meet Panya through the mesh, especially since she groomed him graciously. As long as the temperatures are above 50ºF, Akia and Likimi will be on the exhibit
On May 30, 2010, Sedgwick County Zookeepers got some great news – Likimi, our female okapi, was in labor. At 10:11 p.m. Akia was born. The name Akia means first born. This is Likimi's first calf and the first okapi calf born at Sedgwick County Zoo Okapi calves will develop quickly and he was already nursing about two hours after birth. Likimi and her calf were kept in the barn so that we could make sure that their bond was strong. On the second day, keepers observed a strong bond between Likimi and Akia when Akia found his way into an adjacent stall. The separation dissatisfied Mom, so Akia quickly came back into the birthing stall to be close to her. After that, Mom was calm anytime the calf went to the adjacent stall to rest. This is a normal behavior for a calf to separate from the adult, because in the wild, the female could attract predators towards the calf, so they nest their young in the forest. Keepers at Sedgwick County Zoo encourage this behavior by providing a stall for him to go into with visual barriers to make him feel secure.
Okapi calves cannot thermoregulate, therefore, Akia has spent the last few months inside with Mom where keepers could keep a close eye on him. Now that the summer heat has passed they are starting to spend more time outside.
August 2010 - Akia is growing fast! He was 199 lbs on the 17th. He is still defecating about once a week. He is eating more grain and anything Likimi may be nibbling on to try it out. The veterinarian staff had to come by for a visit, Akia needed his preventative injections. The keepers made a chute out of hay bales and he readily went into the chute and was calm when he received the injection. We are getting him ready for his big adventure to the exhibit. He has access to a pen that allows him to get use to all the noises that are around the area and walk on different substrates. But he still spends most of his time in his nest area.
Akia is allowing the keepers to scratch his ears and allowing us to groom him more. Of course Mom is the best groomer in town.
He is 145 lbs this week and he defecated (pooped) this week! Yes, we get excited about poop. An okapi calf doesn’t defecate until about 4-10 weeks after birth. The reason this happens is so that predators cannot find the newborn until they have grown a bit and gotten stronger. We expect he will only defecate every few days for a little while.
He weighed 126lbs June 29. Akia is investigating his bowl of grain and taking a few nibbles here or there. Every nibble makes a difference in the life of a young okapi. He weighed 136 lbs by July 6. Akia was playful this week. He has been running around, kicking his back legs out and swinging his head while Likimi just stands there and watches him.
Week 4: June 22-28
He is developing quickly as it is noted that okapi calves double their weight in the first month. Which he is now 109 lbs this week. This week was a HOT one, so we gave him access to a mister for the first time and he stood under it and played. Typical play behavior in okapi is bucking and short little runs. Likimi is spending up to about 8 hours during the day away from the calf, which in the wild at this time, they can spend up to 12 hours at a time away from the calf.
Entry by Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Week 3: June 15-21
He gained 13.4 lbs this week and is up to 90 lbs. Likimi is attentive to the calf and spend time calf grooming Akia. Akia is returning the favor and grooming Likimi. This week they have been spending time together resting side by side.
Entry by Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Week 2: June 8-14
Akia is growing up so fast! We have seen Akia drinking water from his mom’s bowl this week. He weighed in at 76.6 lbs this week, which is a gain of 11.5 lbs in 7 days. We continue to do a few imprinting session at day, he is curious about us and is sniffing our hand. We have had many zoo employees come by to visit Akia, this has helped us get him acclimated to visitors.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Week 1: May 30-June7
We got some great news the evening of May 30. Likimi, our female okapi, was in labor. She was in labor for about 3 hours and Akia was born at 10:11 pm. Calves will develop quickly and was already nursing about 2 hours after birth. For the first few days, Likimi and the calf were kept in the barn so that we could make sure that their bond was strong. On the second day, we observed a strong bond between Likimi and Akia when Akia found his way into the nest stall via the creep door. Likimi was dissatisfied about him going over there, so Akia quickly came back into the birthing stall. After that, Likimi was calm anytime the calf went to the nest stall to rest. This is a normal behavior for a calf to separate from the adult, because in the wild, the female could attract predators towards the calf, so the nest them in the forest. We simulate this behavior by providing a stall for him to go to with visual barriers to make him feel secure. On day three, the veterinarian staff examined Akia for his neonate exam, which included a physical and some preventative injections. He weighed in at 65 lbs that day, so we estimate that he was at least 55 lbs the day of birth. Day 4 was an exciting day for the keepers; we started bonding with the calf for the process called imprinting. We do this so that the calf is relaxed around animal keepers and guests. This will also allow us when he is 500+ lbs, the ability to train him to do various behaviors, such as raising his leg to look at his hoof.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
WLG (Western Lowland Gorilla) Toy Store
'Tis the season to be jolly and the zoo is no different. Season Treatings is an event in which the animals get a chance to enjoy Christmas. This event covers everything from colorful lights, big Christmas trees, and of course presents, ending in the big Christmas dinner. Right about now you are probably asking yourself how this is all possible?
Season's treatings is considered an artificial enrichment day, meaning the items used for enrichment for this day do not have to be natural colored or naturally found in a particular animals environment. As long as it is safe to give and approved by the veterinary staff, it is useable on this day. Last year, the keepers at the Downing Gorilla Forest called our Season Treatings "Home for the Holiday's." We created a living room setting right there in the middle of the public day room. We had a Christmas tree, a fire place and huge presents. Everything was made from cardboard and glue and decorated with non toxic paint. This year, or theme was the "WLG (Western Lowland Gorilla) Toy Store", where we had a huge clearance sale. We had toy soldiers, robots, a toy train set, an eight foot tall rocket, a bicycle, a rocking horse, and our very own band.
Again you ask how is all that possible? Well, for about two months now the keepers and volunteers at the gorilla building have been working hard to make everything out of cardboard boxes and tubes, and a little paper mache. These items are then painted to look like the real thing. The elves have nothing on us; we could probably teach them a technique or two.
December 5th arrived and after an hour of setup, the public dayroom was transformed into the ultimate gorilla sized toy store. The gorillas were set free at 11:00 am into the "toy store" where they with got to play with everything we had created for them and hunt for the food that has been stuffed inside almost every toy and present. After an incredible Season's Treatings event for the gorillas and the guests that were able to see it, one question remains ... what will we do next year?
Written by: Lauren, part-time Zookeeper
Billy’s 19th birthday was on October 17th and he received presents, an ice treat cake, and a banner. His presents filled with newspaper, sheets, and fruit with his cake placed in the center of the room.
He quickly charged into the room and stood very stiff displaying at all the spectators. He then slowly moved closer to the items on the floor. Unsure of what was in the boxes he ran from the platform brushing the pile of boxes sending them flying through the room. He soon realized that the boxes where filled with food, and enrichment items, he gave a content grumble and began opening the boxes leaving the ice treat untouched for over forty five minutes. When Tommy was allowed into the room the two began displaying and tossing the boxes. The cake was picked at but Billy seemed slightly irritated with his treats being stuck in an ice block. He pushed it to the side and waited for it to melt on its own. This just proves Billy’s personality; he wants the food but will only do so much to get it.
Overall this was another successful birthday party at the Downing Gorilla Forest.
Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper
Barney’s 16th birthday was on October 12th and a small party was held in the non-public day room for him. Presents where prepared in the weeks prior, an ice treat cake was made, banners and sheets where hung throughout the room, all to celebrate Barney’s birthday.
When Barney entered the room he paused and took a look around giving a very content grumble. He quickly came down the ramp and began tearing into his presents. When he moved on to the “cake” he looked at it with confusion, picking it up and turning it upside down. This was the first time he had received such a large ice treat. After twenty minutes Shango was allowed into the room to share in Barney’s birthday party. Shango gave the same content grumbles throughout the party. About an hour into his party Barney’s attention again shifted to the ice cake. He picked it up and began slamming it on the floor, shattering it into small pieces. After breaking it apart he began picking out the pieces of food from the ice.
Overall the party was a success and Barney and Shango seemed pleased with the event. As for the ice treat being broken, this only reminded us all of Barney’s inquisitive nature and destructive problem solving methods.
Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper
Throwing a Gorilla Sized Birthday Party
Every Gorilla has a birthday just like each individual person and with a life span of up to 50 years we have plenty of chances to give something special on their day. The keeper staff at The Downing Gorilla Forest has recently started holding birthday parties celebrating the gorilla’s birthdays with treats and presents placed in the non-public day room.
These events are held in the off-exhibit area and consist of presents, banners, and ice treat “cakes” for each gorilla. Cardboard boxes are painted bright colors or wrapped with wrapping paper. Things like food, newspaper, sheets, and t-shirts are placed in the boxes, these are the gorilla’s presents. Then a banner is hung to say “Happy Birthday!” with the gorilla’s name and age.
The “cakes” are made of layered ice, sometimes flavored with Kool-Aid or colored with food coloring. These ice blocks often contain fruit such as blueberries, oranges, or bananas. Each block is round and stacked four high, this looks like a round-layered cake. The cake is always placed last so that it will not melt.
Once all is set the gorilla is given access to the room full of treats and gifts by himself and allowed to enjoy his birthday party in peace. Every gorilla’s reaction is different, but they all still enjoy destroying the presents and being the center of attention.
Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper
When visiting The Downing Gorilla Forest you may notice that you only see two of our three groups of gorillas on exhibit. This is because one of our exhibits, refered to as the non-public day room, is an off-exhibit area. Each group of gorillas is rotated through each exhibit space on a daily basis. This mimics their natural behavior since gorillas do not usually use the same nesting area each night.
There are many benefits to having an off-exhibit area. First, this room gives each group of gorillas a break from all the attention and gives keeper staff the option to place a specific group off-exhibit if we feel it will benefit them. Second, this exhibit doubles as our fun room. This gives us the opportunity to give enrichment items we wouldn’t normally place on public exhibits, like little tyke play sets, colorful barrels, and large boxes. Recently, we have even started holding birthday parties for each gorilla. Finally, this exhibit allows new animal introductions to take place in a more controlled setting while allowing the other groups to be on exhibit and unaffected.
Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper
Trust and Positive Reinforcement
In previous journal entries, there has been a lot of discussion about the individual personalities of the gorillas and different forms of enrichment we offer the animals in our care. Some of the most common questions we receive revolve one common topic, training. “How do we treat a wound, or how do we get the gorillas to do what we would like them to do?” Many of these types of questions can be answered with a single word, training. This usually leads to another question, how do you get them to train?
Training is based on trust and positive reinforcement. Trust between a keeper and an animal is very important. The animal must have faith that the keeper doing the training will not harm them. Otherwise, getting their cooperation for anything is extremely difficult. Positive reinforcement means when the animal does a desired behavior, they are rewarded in a positive manner. For the gorillas, this usually means a desired food item. An important point to note is that all training is done on a voluntary basis. If the gorilla doesn’t want to train, we don’t train. Nothing bad will happen to the gorilla for not training. They only train when they are willing to train.
We have a full protocol, or guideline, that all trainers follow that list out the behaviors we are training, and the cues we use to ask for those behaviors. These protocols are in place so all trainers are asking for the same behaviors the same way. This consistency aids in the efficiency the gorillas pick up the new behavior. We train the gorillas to show us almost every body part and to paint. This training allows us to monitor health and well being, to administer medication, and to treat wounds. We also are able to brush teeth, trim nails, and give an injection. The painting aspect of the training is for fun. Several of the gorillas seem to really enjoy this. Training is meant to be enjoyable for the animal and a positive experience, even when they are asked to do something most wouldn’t think of possibly being a positive experience, like getting an injection.
Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper
When it is hot outside, The Downing Gorilla Forest keepers make sure to drink lots of water and try to keep cool. But what do we do for the animals? All of the animal exhibits have been built with the ever-changing-Kansas environment in mind. There are several features in the exhibit that can provide the animals some relief from the heat. There are water-misting systems where the animals can choose to sit or stand in the mist to cool off. The trees and shelters provide shade and a dry area to relax. The exhibits have pools and moats that the animals can wade through. The animals also move about the different levels of the exhibits to enjoy the Kansas wind. The keepers monitor the temperature and the animal’s behavior throughout the day. The keepers also use a temperature guideline that outlines what the animals can tolerate and indicates how the animals need to be housed based on that temperature. One option, when the temperature is extremely hot, is the staff will provide the animals with access from the exhibit to their night housing to provide another cooling option. Animals do have instincts and will gravitate towards areas that will help them regulate their body temperature which is usually a shady or breezy location.
Take a tip from the gorillas and listen to your body when the temperatures rise. Find a shady spot and rest. Join us for Ape Awarness activities in The Downing Gorilla Forest August 7 - 9.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Over the past 11 years, we’ve heard every description imaginable when our guests see the warthogs for the first time. Some say they are so ugly they’re cute, while others can’t even find the words to describe what they are looking at. Their keepers think they are adorable!
In 1998, Sedgwick County Zoo introduced our pair of warthogs, Matata and Malkia, to our guests. After a brief courtship, Malkia gave birth to three babies. One of those offspring, a daughter, can still be seen on exhibit with mom and dad.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the warthogs. In early spring of 2000, the staff began introducing the group to their new Pride of the Plains exhibit. Malkia and Mbili enjoyed the new home, but Matata just couldn’t get the hang of things. No matter what keepers did to try to keep him from trying to run through the glass windows, he just didn’t get it. After several weeks of attempting to make him feel at home and watching in dismay as he kept trying to go over or through the viewing windows to get back to his old exhibit, the zoo staff decided he’d be better off staying with the Slender-horned gazelles in the African Veldt area, while the ladies set up house in the new place. That was the arrangement for nine years until recently.
In January of this year, our little Warthog family was re-united back in the Veldt. Red River Hogs moved into the Pride of the Plains and the girls moved back home. They’ve had no troubles getting re-acquainted and can be see snoozing together in their mud wallows or exploring the exhibit that they once again share with the gazelles.
Entry by: Norma - Zookeeper
There’s always something new to see at the Zoo
In the early morning hours of June 11, keepers were delighted to find that one of our expectant mothers, Janeiro who is a 19-year-old Grevy’s zebra, had given birth to a healthy baby boy. Janeiro has had several foals and has consistently proven to be a wonderful mother. She, the baby, and Auntie Capulet spent a week in a quiet back holding area. When keepers felt the youngster was confident enough to go out to the exhibit, a bright orange snow fence was put up around the moat so that the foal could clearly see the boundaries and not let his new legs get him into trouble. It has since been removed and guests can see the baby racing around the exhibit with Janeiro keeping a close eye on him.
On June 17, our Reticulated giraffe, Lois, gave birth to a leggy little girl. Both mother and daughter spent a few days together inside before getting to know the exhibit. Keepers let Lois and the baby explore the exhibit for a day and then introduced Twiga and Kayen to them. Kayen, who is only seven months old, seems to have taken quite an interest in the baby and has been trying to get her to play. They haven’t progressed to games of chase yet, but it won’t be too much longer.
Entry by: Norma, Zookeeper
Enrichment comes in many forms. From browse to barrels and everything in between. Keepers spend a large part of their day making, cleaning, or designing some type of enrichment. Variety is the key when it comes to good enrichment. One way we add variety to the type of food we feed the gorillas is to grow it ourselves.
In a service area behind the gorilla building, we have an enrichment garden. This has become my pet project this year. I have planted several types of tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash, and cucumbers this year. I also have grapes, watermelon, and green beans growing. The garden is set up with an irrigation system and tomato cages.
Once the plants are ready, we usually get enough produce to supply several areas with enrichment. The garden is still in the early stages of growth and like any garden, we have to wait and see what does well and what doesn’t. The plants that do well in our conditions and sun exposure get used again while we try others for experiment. This garden takes a great deal of time to prepare every year, but it can produce quite a bit of enrichment each summer in a very cost effective way.
Entry by: Ashley, Zookeeper
This is a great time of year because the plants have started becoming green. Why is this a great time of year? When the plants grow, the gorillas get a treat of what we call browse. Browse can be tree branch and plant trimmings that the keeper staff will harvest to feed the gorillas everyday. The gorillas do have some individual preferences. Matt’s group will eat the leaves and the bark, where Shango and Barney usually just eat the leaves and Billy and Tommy usually just eat the bark. After they have eaten their favorite part, they use the browse to build nests or for tool use. I just watched Barney using a stick as a tool to get food out of a feeding device. Browse also benefits their diet, as it is similar to what they would eat in the wild. Browse is high in fiber and nutrients and low in starch. Another great benefit that I have heard of is the bark has medicinal value that can help with digestive issues or illnesses. There are several species of trees, herbs and flowers that we harvest browse from. Most of the browse we feed to the gorilla are non toxic species found locally in the area that grow well in the Kansas climate. The gorillas are enjoying their browse treat today. Not only are they getting a food treat, I watched Virgil running around the outdoor exhibit with a branch in his hand to display and make noise with.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Tommy’s younger brother is Billy. He was born October 17, 1990. He currently weighs 443 pounds. He was born at the Bronx Zoo in New York. He arrived at the Sedgwick County Zoo June 9, 2004 from the Kansas City Zoo.
Billy has a very lively personality. He likes to spin on the wet floors and will play chase. He also has a mischievous side. Billy likes to watch everything the keepers do. He enjoys training and painting. Chances are if there is a gorilla painting in the gift shop for sale, Billy likely painted it.
While Billy is the younger brother to Tommy, he is the dominant animal in this troop. He is larger than Tommy and in gorilla society that matters. He is often seen displaying toward Tommy, or sitting with his back towards the glass. Billy will use his strength first to problem solve. If that doesn’t work, he will try other methods reluctantly. Billy usually takes a little time to warm up to new things, but is curious. That curiosity aids in training him new behaviors and alterations to his routine.
Entry by: Scott, Zookeeper
Tommy was born at the Bronx Zoo on September 2, 1988. He is our oldest gorilla at the mid-life age of 21 years, but not the largest gorilla at only 390 pounds. Tommy is housed with his younger brother Billy. The two of them get along fine with only a few conflict displays every once in awhile to confirm their hierarchy status.
Tommy’s personality is different than his brother’s. He enjoys interactions with his keepers for training sessions and painting. But if you are someone he has never seen before, his first response is to display and stiff stance towards them. It will take him some time to warm up to the new people, but once he trusts them, he is very cooperative.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
On November 29, 2008 we had another Reticulated giraffe born here at Sedgwick County Zoo. With a whopping 24 births since August 1979, we’ve never had a shortage when it comes to the tallest land mammals. The name given to the newest member of the herd is Kayin, which means “celebrated child.”
Giraffe gestation is 453-464 days, approximately 15 months, and Kayin entered the world in a big way…by falling about 5 feet. Giraffe mothers give birth standing up. Kayin was on her feet in less than an hour and nursing shortly after that. She has a wonderful personality and is very friendly to keepers and to our guests who visit the giraffe feeding station. She is often seen playing “tag” on exhibit with her big sister Olivia.
Samson is the smallest gorilla at Sedgwick County Zoo. He was born November 25, 1998. His current weight is 266 lbs. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He arrived at the Zoo November 16, 2004.
Samson is the loner in the group of four gorillas. He can often be seen sleeping by himself and is usually the last one to shift off exhibit. He is an eager trainer and will take advantage of opportunities when they are presented to him. He is very relaxed, but cautious of his surroundings. He is the lowest-ranking male of this troop. However, he always seems to find a way to get his fair share of food and enrichment.
Samson is the most easily recognized gorilla at the zoo. He received a severe bite wound to his face at his previous home that left him with a significant scar to his upper left eyebrow area. It certainly doesn’t affect his personality. He is playful and resourceful. He is often seen caring large amounts of food to a secluded area so he doesn’t have to share.
Each gorilla has their own special vocalizations that vary between them. Samson is the only one that includes a high-pitched grumble. It is very distinct among the other individuals. These vocalizations occur around feeding time and training time.
Jabir is a juvenile western lowland gorilla called a black back. He was born on November 20, 1998 at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Jabir and Virgil have the same father, which makes them half brothers. When Jabir moved to the Sedgwick County Zoo, he weighed 100 lbs. Just a few weeks ago he weighed in at 265 lbs. In the next couple of years, he will mature into a silverback and weigh approximately 400-500 lbs. The keepers can’t believe how fast he has grown in the past 4 years.
Just recently, Jabir has his health exam. During this exam, Dr. Bajaj, a cardiologist, examined his heart health using an electrocardiogram and ultrasound machine. Dr Bajaj reported that his heart is healthy. These test results have given us a baseline of information to compare future results as he matures. Also Dr Winter, a veterinary dentist, examined Jabir’s teeth. One tooth needed some dental attention, but otherwise another good report. A part of the exam process is also to collect blood to do CBC and serum chemistries, just as we would for our own physicals. We will be doing this type of exam on all 8 of the gorillas in the near future.
Read more about the heart exams.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Virgil is the youngest gorilla we have at the Sedgwick County Zoo. He is a member of Matt’s group. He is currently 293 lbs. and will be ten years old on March 21. Virgil is also known as Amiri. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and arrived here on November 16, 2004.
Virgil has something most gorillas don’t, a twin. His twin sister still resides at the Oklahoma City Zoo. He is usually very active and playful. He is also quite the mess maker. Virgil is easily identified because he is missing his left pinky finger. He lost that finger to a new silverback being introduced to the family group in Oklahoma. He can often be seen close to the glass watching the Zoo guests watch him. He also enjoys playing in the pool.
Virgil is the class clown in this group. However, he is growing up and can often be seen challenging Matt and the others in the group. He pays a lot of attention to his surroundings and usually watches very closely what the keepers are doing. He enjoys training and recently took a shot for a veterinary procedure from a keeper. Virgil will also finger paint, but doesn’t do that consistently yet.
Entry by: Scott, Zookeeper
Re-designing an Exhibit….
In January 2009, Red River hogs moved into Sedgwick County Zoo. The two-year-old boys, Peter and Paul, were introduced to their exhibit in the Pride of the Plains, which was formerly occupied by our female warthogs.
When the weather was warm enough, they got to venture outside. It took some coaxing to initially get them to leave the comfort of their indoor holding but once outside they quickly began to remodel their new home. They bulldozed nearly every inch of dirt on the exhibit with their snouts, chewed up every helpless tree and plant, pushed over rocks and played in the moat, much to the dismay of the hard working Zoo horticulture staff. The fun also included high-speed races and bouts of sparring. They appeared to be having so much fun, we wondered if the hogs would go back inside at the end of the day.
Every day is a new adventure in design for this unique wrecking crew, and they can be seen in action on exhibit whenever the temperature is above 45-degrees.
Entry by: Norma, Zookeeper
Matumaini is his official name, but we like to call him “Matt” for short. His name is a Swahili word meaning “hope,” which is his mother’s name. He is a 16-year-old gorilla leading a group of 3 blackback gorillas. In the next couple of years, this group will be very dynamic as the blackbacks mature into silverbacks and determine “who’s the boss.”
Matt is fond of the training process and learns very quickly. We use the training process called operant conditioning. The basis of operant conditioning is to associate the connection between a behavior and a reward. The gorillas are learning to present various body parts to the keepers, such as shoulders, hands, feet, ears, etc. All of these behaviors benefit the husbandry and medical aspects of their daily care. For example, when the gorilla presents their eye close to the mesh, the keepers can get a better look at the eye or add eye drops if necessary. When the gorilla opens their mouth, we can inspect and brush their teeth. They also present their chest, which will allow us to use an ultrasound or ECG probe to monitor their heart health. Another benefit is we can give them injections with a shoulder or thigh presentation.
Keepers enjoy training Matt because he is highly motivated by the rewards and keeper interaction he receives. Since he is a quick learner and knows almost all of the behaviors, he assists us in teaching new keepers the training process. Matt is very patient when the new trainer doesn’t give the right cue.
Enrty by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper
Shango's "Little" Brother
Shango’s younger brother is Barney. He was born October 12, 1993. He currently weighs 437 pounds. Barney is also known as Iko Ozo, meaning “Power Gorilla” in the lbo dialect of Nigeria. He was born in San Francisco, California. He arrived at Sedgwick County Zoo May 22, 2004.
Barney is very inquisitive and quite a troublemaker. He likes to display for dominance towards his older brother and is currently trying to take over that role. He can be seen trying to position himself so he can limit the area Shango can occupy, and often harasses his brother out of sleeping spots or away from food. He enjoys training and catches on to new things quickly.
We often use Barney as a tester for any new toy we get for the gorillas. He is very athletic and has a tendency to be rough on toys. So, if the toy can survive him, it will survive the others. He has been seen walking a single fire hose strand without holding on to anything. Given his weight and size, that is pretty remarkable balance. He is learning how to paint as well. We are currently working with him to paint the canvas only, not the windows or floor.
Entry by: Scott, Zookeeper
Eight Amazing Male Gorillas
Here’s a little introduction to the amazing 8 male gorillas that call Sedgwick County Zoo their home. A group of male gorillas is called a bachelor group. We have three bachelor groups. One group consists of two brothers named Billy and Tommy. Another group also consists of two brothers: Shango and Barney. The third group includes four males named Matt, Jabir, Virgil and Samson. You’ll get to know these gorillas a little more as you read our keeper journal during 2009, for the International Year of the Gorilla.
To start off, a little bit about Shango. Shango means “God of thunder” in Nigerian dialect. He was born at the San Francisco Zoo on March 11, 1989 and lived there until he and his younger brother moved to our Zoo. Shango is currently our largest gorilla at about 450 pounds. At maturity, male gorillas can weigh between 400-500 pounds. Shango is a relaxed and gentle gorilla whom enjoys building nests and breaking up enrichment ice blocks to get to treats.
Shango is currently in the dominate role over his brother, Barney. Even though Barney has been challenging Shango more in the past few months with posturing and displays, as of date, Shango has not allowed him to take the dominate status. As they both get older, we will be watching them closely to see if this will change.
Entry by: Danielle, Sr. Zookeeper