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#GorillaStory: Moke Tug-of-War

This update was written by primate keeper Melba Brown.

On Sunday, western lowland gorilla Moke turns 20 weeks old! In my last #GorillaStory post, I mentioned that there was a kerfuffle between Kibibi, Calaya and Baraka. We suspected that Moke was at the center of the encounter; this week, that suspicion was all but confirmed. 

Primate keepers observed Moke walk away from Calaya and towards Kibibi. When he reached her, Kibibi froze like a statue—a strikingly different behavior from her normal response. He enthusiastically climbed all over her, yet she maintained her still posture. There was no doubt that Moke wanted to play with Kibibi, but when there was no response from her, he left and walked back to his mom. This encounter was a clear indication that something most likely occurred the last time and perhaps Kibibi interacted with Moke in a way that upset Calaya; or, it simply could have been that Calaya was in a salty mood.  

Enrichment items can sometimes result in of a tug-of-war between Moke and Calaya. A recent offering of a rubber hose filled with peanut butter presented Moke with a bit of a challenge. At first, Calaya put it on the hay. Then, Moke put his mouth on one end and started to eat the peanut butter. 

Calaya picked up the hose and held it after she retrieved a stick to collect the peanut butter from inside. Moke tried to get the hose, or at least one end. Initially, he had some success accessing the tasty treat, but mom held it higher out of his reach with accompanying grunts of displeasure. 

Moke looked at the situation and decided to climb the mesh to reach the hose. He gave a good stretch, but to no avail. Calaya moved it away again. 

After futile attempts, he gave up and found a piece of squash on the hay. It was a large chunk and he had to work a bit to pick it up. He tasted it and quickly decided that it paled in comparison to the peanut butter. 

Moke moved towards mom and she collected him and climbed into the upper chute for some quiet solitude with her son. When Calaya was finished with the peanut butter-filled hose, she put it down. Only then was Moke allowed to take possession of the hose. You may wonder why we do not give Moke his own hose at this age. It is because it would barely touch his fingers before Calaya would snatch it up! 

Rest assured, though, that we do manage to slip treats to Moke when mom is preoccupied with her own enrichment and treats.

Can’t get enough of Moke? Follow the latest updates on the Smithsonian’s National Zoo youngest gorilla using the hashtag #GorillaStory. During your next Zoo visit, don’t miss the daily 11:30 a.m. gorilla keeper talk and other amazing animal encounters!