As we did with Moke and our 7-year-old Bornean orangutan, Redd, we will eventually train Zahra to voluntarily participate in her own husbandry and medical care. We train our great apes using positive reinforcement, a type of operant conditioning where we pair desired behaviors with rewards in the form of attention or treats. When we ask the apes to do a behavior, they can choose to voluntarily participate, knowing they will be rewarded.
Like human infants, Zahra will need a series of vaccines to keep her healthy as she grows. We are watching for signs that she is ready to begin voluntary injection training. First, we want to see Zahra venture further from mom and for longer periods, as well as interact more frequently with keepers at the mesh. Second, we need Calaya to consistently allow us to reward Zahra, rather than taking every piece of food away from her.
At the moment, Zahra isn’t ready to start injection training. But, I have every confidence that, when the time comes, she will be just as brave as the rest of her family.
If you are planning to visit the Zoo in the next few weeks, be sure to stop by the Great Ape House to see Zahra and her troop! Typically, she is most active between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The best time to see her is just after feedings, when the adults have settled down and she is able to explore the habitat more. Though, at this age, it is common for Zahra to nap between adventures!
This story appears in the December 2023 issue of National Zoo News. Want more #GorillaStory updates? Get the latest news on Zahra and the troop here.