2014 – San Diego Zoo – Love at First Sight

2014 - San Diego Zoo - Love at First Sight
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Why are you staring at me?

I sit here, contemplating ----- life.

Am I happy or am I sad?
Am I better off inside the fence or should I try to escape?
Did I have a life before the zoo?
Do I have any idea what I might be missing?
Where does my food come from?
What am I doing here?
Is this all there is to life?

Ever since King Kong first gave Fay Wray that unexpected lift to the top of the Empire State Building in 1933, Hollywood has gone ape depicting the gorilla as perfect monster material. They seem to be forever typecast as the heavy. But the truth is, they’re peaceful, family-oriented, plant-eating animals that live in complex social groups. They are the largest of all primates—the group of animals that includes monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans.

Many people like to compare gorillas with humans, but there are several differences. Although they are able to stand upright, gorillas prefer to walk using their hands as well as their legs. Their arms are much longer than their legs, and gorillas can use the backs of their fingers like extra feet when they walk. This is called the knuckle walk.

Like all great apes (except humans), gorillas require rain forests to make their living, and the forest depends upon them. The gorilla’s fibrous scat acts as rich fertilizer for the forest, and seedlings sprout from it rapidly, making these animals important forest regenerators.

Gorillas have been a popular part of the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s animals. A 1936 issue of our member magazine, ZOONOOZ, stated, “More people ask for the gorillas than for any single exhibit, even more than inquire about the penguins.” We don’t have penguins here anymore, but we still have gorillas!

The Zoo’s first gorillas arrived here as youngsters in 1931, captured in the mountains of what was then the Belgian Congo in Africa in 1930 by famed explorers Martin and Osa Johnson and paid for by a generous donation from early Zoo benefactors Ellen B. Scripps and her nephew, Robert P. Scripps. The young gorillas were about five or six years old and it was hoped that one was male and the other female. As it turned out, they were both male, but no matter! The awesome apes enchanted Zoo visitors, and the two served as wonderful ambassadors for their species.

Today, the Zoo has a wonderful, naturalistic gorilla habitat that is home to seven gorillas, divided into smaller groups, that alternate days on and off exhibit: while one group is outside being admired by Zoo visitors, the others spends the “off” day indoors in the spacious gorilla “bedrooms.”

Gorillas have no natural enemies or predators, yet these peaceful creatures are at critical risk because of humans. People hunt gorillas for food called bushmeat, and logging and mining companies destroy gorilla habitat. The recent armed conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has caused refugees to pour into previous gorilla habitat. Disease epidemics such as the Ebola virus have recently decimated gorilla populations that were previously considered secure within their natural habitat.

The past 15 years have seen a dramatic decline in gorilla population size, with almost half of the entire eastern gorilla population suspected to be wiped out. Illegal hunting has become a lucrative activity in the region. While hunters often lay snares targeting other mammals, sadly, many gorillas die or lose limbs after being accidentally ensnared. An illegal pet trade is also on the rise. Behind each infant gorilla caught by poachers, several family members are often killed.

In 2000, San Diego Zoo Global established a long-term field program in Cameroon, which is now part of our Central Africa Program, focusing on the behavior and habitat use of gorillas and other primate species in the mountainous southwestern Cameroon rain forest. It isn’t clear whether gorillas in the area’s Ebo Forest are western lowland gorillas Gorilla gorilla gorilla or Cross River gorillas Gorilla gorilla diehli—or something else. In 2005, we received permission to establish permanent study sites inside the Ebo Forest, where surveys gathering ecological and behavioral data for various species, including gorillas, are collected daily. In 2012, the Central Africa Program has established Clubs des Amis des Gorilles (Gorilla Guardian Clubs) in the villages closest to the gorillas to promote community-led conservation initiatives and to promote pride in the unique Ebo gorillas.

Africa may seem far away, but there are some things you can do to help! When you buy wood or furniture, ask if the wood has been certified. This means the wood was taken in a way approved by forestry experts. Buying certified wood encourages logging companies in Africa to follow wildlife laws that help protect gorillas and other African animals.

Cell phones have a connection to the well-being of gorillas and other animals in central Africa? Here's the 4-1-1: cell phones contain a rare ore called coltan (short for columbite-tantalite). This metal is found in central Africa, and increased mining operations to get the coltan means habitat loss and increased hunting pressure on gorillas and other wildlife. Surprisingly, wildlife reserves suffer most from mining. With the increased popularity of cell phones, thousands of illegal miners have invaded the protected parks. Needing food, they have hunted gorillas and elephants to near extinction in these areas.

- See more at: animals.sandiegozoo.org/animals/gorilla#sthash.Ywd7FK1d.dpuf

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