This update was written by Assistant Curator of Primates Becky Malinsky.
The past few weeks have been busy and exciting in the Great Ape House. Our 11-month-old western lowland gorilla infant, Moke, seems to be completely healed following a fracture to his left femur. Both his demeanor and his mobility indicate that he has made a full recovery. Part of the path to recuperation involved separating our gorilla troop temporarily, mostly so Moke couldn’t rough-house with his favorite play-mate, 10-year-old Kibibi.
Once the veterinarians and primate staff felt comfortable with both the amount of time that had passed as well as the behaviors seen from Moke, we decided to reunite the troop. On the morning of Feb. 27, the primate staff opened the “howdy” door between the gorillas to give everyone full physical access to each other once again.
Keepers set up the exhibit with numerous enrichment items to keep them all busy during the re-introduction. Popcorn to forage for and coconuts to crack open are a good distraction from any potential disagreements that might arise! There was a lot of initial excitement and pleasure rumbles (a positive vocalization) from everyone during the first few hours, then the gorillas all calmed down and seemed relieved and content to be back together.
While it has been an adjustment for the group to all be back together, their social dynamics are slowly returning back to normal. We have seen Baraka fulfilling his role as silverback by being more protective of his group following the separation, which is to be expected. Moke is understandably excited to be back with Kibibi and Mandara. He has been seen mischievously chasing after Mandara and Baraka on several occasions, as well as getting back to his joyous play sessions with Kibibi.
We are not the only ones grateful for the spring-like weather around Washington, D.C. over the past week. The gorilla troop has been enjoying some time outside. Warm and sunny days also bring more visitors to the Zoo, so we hope that if you are in the park, you will stop by the Great Ape House to spend time with our gorilla and orangutans who reside in the building. This balmy weather is also a reminder that we will have a big event to celebrate in the Spring—Moke’s first birthday April 15!
Wild about Moke? Follow his adventures at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo using the hashtag #GorillaStory. During your next visit, chat with a member of the Zoo’s animal care team at the daily 1 p.m. gorilla keeper talk.