Going to the Zoo as a class with intentions for research certainly helped open my eyes to a whole new way of looking at zoos. I have grown up going to the NC zoo in Ashboro, but this was my first time with an objective purpose, and thus I experienced it very differently.
As a class, we arrived at 9:00 in the morning right as the zoo was opening. We got to walk from North America to Africa (not without plenty amount of jokes); and we got to see several North American animals along the way. In general, I have always found little interest in the animals from North America like the Red Wolves and Grizzly Bears. As we approached the Gorilla’s habitat, it was revealed to us that the Gorillas would not be out until it reached 45 degrees. While it was slightly frustrating for us as researchers to be put on hold for an indefinite amount of time, it definitely was comforting to know that the natural climates of the gorillas were being respected.
Because we didn’t know when the gorilla’s would be out, we went inside to take a look at the Hamadryas baboons, which was when the day started to get interesting. The enclosure for the Hamadyras was a combination of indoor / outdoor, and it gave them quite a bit of room to run and play around. We got to see a good deal of interaction between males and females as well as adults and juveniles. The juveniles seemed fairly attached to the adult females, and the adult males seemed pretty aloof – kind of doing their own thing. What interested me the most was how active the kids were! They were constantly picking fights with each other and it seemed like they were in a territory battle over a log. The kids were also very interested in their audience; we got a few taps at the glass! I thought that the way the enclosure was set up enabled us to view the baboons really well while giving them enough privacy and room to romp around.
After spending quite a bit of time with the baboons, the gorillas still weren’t out (it was COLD!) we decided to go say hello to the chimpanzees. The chimp enclosure was very large and the exhibit gave information about all the chimpanzees in the habitat. I liked the displays because it gave us a way to learn more about the chimpanzees even though we couldn’t see them all. We couldn’t see very many, in fact, except and older male and a mother / infant pair. It seemed like the mother was pretty protective of her child, when she noticed us watching them she made a great effort to shield her child from us. At one point she came over to inspect us.
Around 12:00 the baboons made it outside! Antsy to get started on my observations, I didn’t spend much time familiarizing myself with the different gorillas. I would definitely do this part differently next time. It was difficult for me to differentiate between the adult females at the outset of my observations. After time it certainly got easier, but I suddenly had much more respect for Dian Fossey who had to deal with many more than 3 adult females! I loved watching the different gorillas and discerning their personalities. My midterm research paper will reveal more about their specific behaviors, but you could definitely tell the difference between gorillas based on behavior and not just their idiosyncrasies.
The gorillas in this particular exhibit may have been acting uniquely because of the recent losses in family. The Silverback gorilla has just recently passed away, and Acacia’s son also died recently. It was fairly obvious to see that Acacia was missing a son, and it seemed like her interactions with the two juveniles (who weren’t hers) was slightly more awkward, for lack of a better word. I think it would be neat to go back to the zoo eventually when another Silverback has been introduced to see how interactions between females changes.
I thought that the gorilla enclosure itself seemed slightly small, but that there were ample amounts of resources in the enclosure to keep the gorillas entertained (such as straw, brush, logs, etc…). We also got to see feeding time in the gorilla enclosure, where zoo keepers threw vegetables (such as carrots and romaine lettuce) to the gorillas.
Over all I thought that the experience was very valuable and helped me look at zoos in an entirely different way – objective and focused. I particularly disliked when the gorilla habitat became crowded with families (most of them pretty country) who clearly knew very little about the gorillas. Maybe this project has made me snobby and pretentious about wildlife, because I am now torn between the idea of a zoo as an educational and informative opportunity and a mere showcase to put the exotic on display to be admired in an ignorant manner. Either way I’m glad I had the experience and it was a great time!