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#GorillaStory: Who Knows This Nose?

  • Moke at 4 months old.

This update was written by primate keeper Melba Brown. 

At 4 months old, our western lowland gorilla infant Moke is already solid on his footing and has started giving his mom, Calaya, some good exercise in chasing after him! The mobility practice sessions he had under her watchful eye appear to have made a noticeable difference in the speed of his movements.

Western lowland gorilla noses

Our regular #GorillaStory update readers are familiar with our gorilla troop. One of my favorite facts about gorillas is that they have distinctive nose prints! Above is an opportunity to test your observational skills and identify whose nose is whose. I have put the answers at the end of this blog. Happy guessing!

Calaya and Moke on climbing structure

While Calaya is comfortable letting Moke explore the indoor habitat, the outdoor habitat is a different story. Her favorite hangout spot is on top of the tall wooden structure that sits on the left-hand side of the yard. When she is on the highest platform, it is possible that she allows Moke to explore, but it is difficult for us to see from ground level.

Outside can be a challenging environment; there is tall grass, deep moats, and we occasionally get a visiting snake or two. We do a thorough check of the yards while we place enrichment to ensure we remove any non-approved items (or animals!) that may come into contact with the troops.

Calaya and Moke outside in yard

When the gorilla family has access to the yard, Calaya and Baraka, Moke’s father, enjoy lounging in an area called the chute. It is an elevated portal that the gorillas use to move between indoor and outdoor exhibits. If Calaya is lounging close to the edge, it may be possible to get a great glimpse of Moke. Baraka is very gentle with Moke and can often be seen grooming Calaya while Moke tools around between them. Our wonderful Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ) volunteer interpreters can direct you to their whereabouts on any given day.

Moke holds on to Calaya's arm.

Calaya remains vigilant when there is a possibility of Moke interacting with our 36-year-old adult female, Mandara, and her 9-year-old daughter, Kibibi. One thing is for sure, Calaya has not forgotten the day Mandara took Moke! Although they continue to show affiliative behaviors towards him, it may be a while before Calaya accepts their advances and allows them one-on-one time. Mandara continues her ‘aunting’ attempts. As of yet, they have been unsuccessful.

It is clear from Kibibi’s behavior that she wants to interact with Moke as she did before. However, Mandara’s transgression appears to have affected Calaya’s comfort level around Kibibi as well. Moke will excitedly walk towards Kibibi, but once he reaches her, Calaya will make hasty steps to retrieve him and take him away. She has also chased Kibibi away if she feels she is “too close” to Moke.

One time, I observed Kibibi making an extended, quiet pleasure rumble towards him. He traversed a distance of about eight feet and was practically running towards her. He did this twice, but Calaya scooped him up and took him away before either encounter could blossom.

Moke looking at camera.

Like any young primate with erupting teeth, Moke is chewing on whatever he can put into his mouth. His chewing ability is improving, as the bits are smaller and easier to swallow. The strength in his tiny frame is incredible; already, he is picking up browse branches and gnawing on them!

The individual primates under our care are diverse and incredible! Not only does the primate team care for gorillas and orangutans, but also the primates at Gibbon Ridge, Lemur Island and Think Tank. One of our most amazing residents is Muneca, a female white-cheeked gibbon.

Muneca White-cheeked Gibbon

At 51 years old, she is a legend in her own right as the oldest white-cheeked gibbon in North America! Her years are noticeable in her slim body and slow movements, yet she is one strong-willed and stubborn lady! Daily, she can be heard starting a rousing chorus with the other gibbon and siamangs that live at Gibbon Ridge. Although she has the option to spend time indoors, one of her favorite activities is people watching while hanging out in the yard. On your next visit to the Zoo, stop by and say hello to her!

NOSES (from left to right): Mandara, Moke, Kibibi, Baraka, Kwame, Kojo and Calaya.

Visit Moke and his troop at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Great Ape House! Planning to visit the gorillas? Don’t miss the primate keeper talk, which takes place every day at 11:30 a.m. Follow the latest and greatest Moke news on social media using #GorillaStory.