My School Rocks! 2013-09 - Page 34

hen a videographer accidentally dropped his camera eyepiece into the gorilla exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo, he panicked, especially after a Silverback gorilla named Nkosi picked it right up. Nkosi turned the small, ultra-expensive piece over and over in his huge hands. But, Nkosi didn’t bite the eyepiece or tear it or crush it into the ground. While gorillas usually aren’t described as solicitous — in fact, they can be very destructive — this one, Nkosi, was too smart to hurt something of value. He looked at his trainer, Aaron Jesue, who said “Nkosi. Trade.” In response, the gorilla moved toward the wire mesh at the exhibit boundary. He saw the 4-inch by 6-inch eyepiece was too large to fit through the 3-inch by 3-inch squares, . In the midST of N.C. .. Gorillas had the intelligence to understand it was rubber. So, Nkosi gently squeezed the eyepiece in half and passed it back to Jesue. Nkosi’s reward was a few whole carrots, leafy green tops still attached. Nkosi is a 500-pound, Silverback gorilla. Trainers at the NC Zoo in Asheboro have taught him to trade items that end up in his territory by mistake for treats. It’s part of an ongoing zoo training program for primates. In a controlled setting, trainers were able to help gorillas practice retrieving the items. Other training helped gorillas learn to present particular body parts. For example, a veterinarian may need to access to one of the gorilla’s shoulders to get a blood sample. Or, females may need to move their bellies close to the fence for ultrasound procedures. “That incident with the eyepiece is a huge indication of how intelligent these animals are,” says Rod Hackney, public relations manager at the NC Zoo. Family matters Twenty-one year old Nkosi lives with his family of three adult females, Acacia (18), Olympia (17) and Jamani (13). On Aug. 4, 2012, Jamani had a baby: Bomassa – the first live gorilla birth at the NC Zoo in 23 years. Four weeks later, on Aug, 31, Olympia gave birth to Apollo. Sadly, a third gorilla baby (born July 8, 2013 to Acacia), lived for only two days before passing away on the morning of July 10. When gorillas are born, they usually weigh 4 or 5 pounds. Bomassa and Apollo have thrived, and Bomassa is now 16 pounds and Apollo is 14 pounds. An adult gorilla weighs between 400 and 500 pounds, so they have a lot of growing to do. For now, though, Bomassa and Apollo can choose whether to snuggle on their mothers’ backs or to run around independently. They enjoyed their birthday party on Aug. 3. Since August is hot, keepers made “ice cakes” with fresh fruit. They gave the gorillas some new enrichment toys. Zoo visitors had time to talk with the trainers while watching the gorillas feed and enjoy their treats. An even bigger party may come next year when the NC Zoo marks its 40th anniversary. With more than 1,600 animals representing more than 225 species, the zoo will have plenty of ways to celebrate. Bomassa and Apollo are likely to be part of the fun, though, as the baby gorillas are two of the zoo’s most popular animals. Primary primates The overall NC Zoo gorilla program is part of the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) from Silver Spring, Md.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). There are 332 gorillas in 50 AZA-accredited zoos. Last year, 10 gorillas were born. Nine survived. Gorillas are an endangered species due to poaching and habitat destruction in their native Africa. Many Gorilla SSP institutions support international efforts to protect gorillas from extinction. North Carolina Zoo helps lead these efforts through conservation work and through education initiatives in Uganda. “The more we help educate people about how important it is to save the gorillas, the more we can do to help them,” says Nicholas, a gorilla enthusiast and fifth grader at Los Gatos Christian School in Los Gatos, Calif. B y Re sa G ol d b erg large mammals? What is so remarkable about gorillas anyway? That’s what our special, back-toschool Rockin’ Reporters, Carly and Conrad, wanted to find out. They visited the NC Zoo on a steamy July afternoon and traveled to “Africa” by golf cart. The air was static and moist. After hiking through jungly paths, they came to the Forest Glade Gorilla Exhibit. There was Nkosi, lying on his back, sleeping soundly near one of the females. In between, Bomassa and Apollo were tangled up together. Gorillas don’t really smile, but the edges of mouths seemed curve up into a grin. Gorillas don’t talk, but Animal Management Supervisor Chris Goldston explained to Carly and Conrad how they certainly do communicate with each other. Carly: Why do they beat their chests? Why would we want to save these 34 – My School Rocks! | September 2013 | My School Rocks! – 35