Frank the Gorilla: First Year

Posted at 12:19 pm August 21, 2009 by Greg Vicino

gorilla_frank_7-09_1Life in the troop has certainly had an incredible impact on little Frank’s social development, but even more impressive is the impact it has had on Frank’s family. Back when Frank was born and we realized we were going to have to intervene at some level, we had many candid discussions about how best to raise this kid, without hampering his true “gorilla skills.”

Although the San Diego Zoo has a significant amount of experience and a tremendous amount of success hand-rearing great apes, we recognized that we could only teach an infant gorilla so much about how to become a successful adult. We weighed the pros and cons of our level of interaction and determined the threshold for how much impact our influence would have compared to that of his family. We knew we could teach Frank some of the tools he would need to keep him healthy, but we knew we would never be able to teach him how to “speak” gorilla. The fact that the females in his family (mom Azizi and aunts Imani and Ndjia) were all inexperienced moms, we hoped that raising Frank as a team would allow them to get practice in the skills that make a mother successful. (Read post, It Takes a Village to Raise a Gorilla.)

As a bunch of self-described “primate nerds,” we looked for some of the more subtle signals that would indicate a mutual learning process. The most obvious was transportation and locomotion. Generally speaking, we look for milestones in physical aptitude, and we start with the most basic: knuckle walking, climbing, and riding on the adult females’ backs. Although the physical adaptations for knuckle walking already exist, it does take some practice to get it right, and most infants begin their first forays into walking with an open hand (or palmer) approach. It takes a few months of practice, but one can see the subtle movements that lead to a more curled under, traditional knuckle walk.

We waited and watched, and Frank grasped this skill right on time. The trick then becomes determining when to open your hands for climbing and gaining enough balance to knuckle your way up onto an uneven surface (logs, rocks, etc.). When you look at some of Franks photos, you can see how his hands are much more parallel with the ground than the adults’ hands are when he climbs. Although he is using his knuckles to make contact, he is still putting most of his weight on his palm and hands. Subtle, but really fascinating if you’re a primate nerd!

Climbing was a little bit easier and came on much more effortlessly than the whole knuckle-walking thing. We made sure he had plenty of climbing opportunities in his bedroom area, and of course grasping is one of the first physical skills that develop in infant primates. As soon as a baby primate is born, he or she needs to be able to grasp on to Mom even while sleeping. The transition from using this skill on Mom to using it on a rope or a tree is generally a smooth one. This was certainly the case with Frank, and we often marveled over how someone that was so ungainly on all fours could happily suspend himself by one hand. This has now evolved into some pretty tricky moves in which he can suspend himself by his right hand while beating his chest with the left. Then comes the need to coordinate the feet in the whole climbing process, sometimes keeping a firm grasp on one object with his foot while negotiating a gap with his upper body. This still results in a sloppy tumble about half the time, but he maintains the confidence to keep trying, which is another trait that is reinforced by his close relationship with his family.

Being transported dorsally (on the back) or ventrally (on the chest) by one of the females is also something that takes a team effort. The females do most of the work to get him into position, but he needs to recognize the signals and cooperate a bit when the position gets awkward. Most female primates develop their own style when it comes to transporting a baby, and these three girls are no different. Azizi is the master of the ventral hold and is not real keen on the dorsal hook up. Ndjia is pretty good with both, but often prefers what we call the “furry football” approach in which she carries him by the rump with his arms and legs wrapped around her forearm. It’s a bumpy ride and Ndjia’s limp (from a leg injury as a juvenile) makes it look pretty uncoordinated. It suits her personality, however, and it sets her up nicely for a perfect tumble in which she ends up laying on her back with Frank in perfect tickle position.

Aunt Imani gives Frank a lift.

Aunt Imani gives Frank a lift.

Imani is by far the best at all of these moves and also seems to be very in tune with when he needs help as opposed to when he simply wants help. She often waits for him to negotiate difficult terrain on his own and withholds her assistance until it is truly necessary. This is an excellent example of how that relationship is one that must be learned through trail and error. It builds confidence in both parties and helps Frank develop physical skills to compliment his explorative nature. When you get that chance to watch Frank and Imani interact, you will notice how she meters her attention and allows him to struggle a bit before lending a helping hand. This is allowing her to practice some very valuable maternal skills and teaches her when to intervene and when whining is a necessary step in learning.

Paul Donn hangs out with his little son.

Paul Donn hangs out with his little son.

As of late, we have also seen an incredible but subtle change in the entire troop dynamics with respect to the relationships each has with one another. Generally speaking, female gorillas form the strongest adulthood bonds with the silverback as opposed to the other females in the troop. This is an essential feature to gorilla social structure, and it reinforces the millions of years of social evolution that results in a single male group. Of course, the relationship between mother and offspring is also an incredibly important one, but proximity and contact make that one much more obvious. Frank’s family is a relatively young troop, and although Paul Donn (the silverback and Frank’s dad) was showing signs of a competent troop leader, we knew that the introduction of an infant would solidify the bonds of the family.

Before Frank was born, it was not uncommon for the three females to spend most of the day in proximity to one another while Paul rested in his favorite nap spot on the other side of the exhibit. About two months ago we started to see a subtle migration of the females to the periphery of Paul’s nap spot. Now, more and more frequently we can see the troop within visual contact of one another and the females spending less time out of range from their silverback. Paul and Frank have an incredible bond, and when they are inside it is usually the two of them who spend the most time together, which in turn draws the females in closer due to Frank.

Once again, the little guy’s impact on the entire troop has been almost immeasurable and has been the key to our goal of allowing these magnificent animals to express natural, normal gorilla behavior so that we can share that special connection with our guests. Please join us for the San Diego Zoo’s Discovery Days: Absolutely Apes, presented by Bridgeport Education, September 17 to 20, and learn more about all of our amazing great apes. Frank is serving as the San Diego Zoo’s ambassador for the WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums) 2009 Year of the Gorilla celebration.

Greg Vicino is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo. He’ll be presenting a talk about Frank at during a Special Speakers program at the Zoo on Wednesday, September 30.

See video of Frank’s story

Read more posts about apes and monkeys

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70 Responses to “Frank the Gorilla: First Year”

  1. Lee in Vancouver says:

    Thank you for such a heart-warming article Greg. Frank is learning everyday and so is the rest of the young troup. Will Frank be able to stay with them when he is older or is it only one mature male per troup?

  2. Louise says:

    I was just thinking about Frank and wondering about how things were going. This post had all the answers and more! Thank you so much.

  3. Greg says:

    You are correct, Lee; the traditional gorilla family usually only maintains one mature male. The younger males are encouraged to leave at sexual maturity by their father, or on their own volition due to the lack of suitable mates in the natal troop. However, one of the most fascinating things about primates is an uncanny connection to the ecology they are part of. We refer to it as socioecology, and it is how we describe differences in social structure (single male, solitary, female-bonded, multi-male multi-female, etc…), based on the availability and distribution of resources (food), and sexual competition (mates).

    When we look at mountain gorillas Gorilla beringei beringei we see that they are much more likely to exist in a multi-male troop than western lowland gorillas Gorilla gorilla gorilla. The theory being this is possibly due to the vast amount of resources in that particular high-altitude environment, which equates to less feeding competition between the females, allowing for larger troops.

    More girls generally opens the door for more males, thus the variation exists. Where resources are more scant and the competition between females is higher (as they are with the western lowland gorillas), females are more likely to want to join smaller troops, allowing more opportunities for males to be single troop leaders. That being said, some male western lowland gorillas will tolerate the presence of their male offspring for quite some time, even allowing them to mate with unrelated females in the troop. In fact, Frank’s father Paul Donn lived in the Wild Animal Park troop led by the silverback Winston until he was in his late teens. He even sired an infant while living in that troop!

    We suspect Frank will leave this troop in his mid-teens and hopefully go on to have his own family someday.

  4. Carole says:

    What wonderful video! I just love this little guy. He is so precocious and entertaining. I always schedule my visits on days when little Frank is out on exhibit.

  5. Carole says:

    Greg, this is surely one of the best accounts I have read of a young gorilla’s, or for that matter any young animal’s, development on the blog. Well done.

  6. Mary from SF says:

    This is wonderful to read. I have been following our baby gorilla Hasani here in SF (and am thrilled he’s finally a full-fledged member of his family!) but I really enjoy hearing about little Frank as well. This was a fascinating blog entry–thanks!

  7. Nick says:

    H I was wondering how many gorillas are in your other troop and a brief bio on each? Thanks!

  8. Dawn (London) says:

    Thank you Greg for this beautiful update about Frank, not only is it full of information but also very heart warming, Frank is a true credit to you all

  9. Lid says:

    after the panda birth..now SDZ is on course with the blogs! thanks for the tale of a mighty frank..his one handsome guy

  10. Natalie says:

    Thank you for the wonderful account of Frank’s development and impact on the troop during his first year! What sort of development to you expect to see in Frank’s second year? And how long do you suspect it would be before another female in the troop becomes a mother, to see what they have learned?

    Lastly, when is Frank and his troop presently on exhibit? It has been amazing watching his development!

  11. Vickie says:

    Is there any schedule for what days Paul Donn’s troop is on exhibit. Memba’s troop was on exhibit the day I was at the zoo this week. I love all the gorillas but I really want to see Frank.

    Moderator’s note: Frank and his troop can be seen every other day.

  12. nancy from michigan says:

    finally an up-date on little frank! thanks greg! it sounds like the little fellow is doing great and learning new things from the family everyday!! I especially like the picture of frank and his daddy paul donn!! big daddy seems to enjoy his little son and tolerates more from him than anyone else! lol ( like stealing food)

    in the picture paul donn looks like SUCH A PARENT! hands on hips etc. VERY FUNY AND HUMANIZING!

    I wish it was possible to have a web cam like the polar bears, panda bears, and orangutangs! although the latter isn’t too good ( orangutangs) I think the glare from the sun or possibly the location of the camera is the problem. oh, I forgot, the elephants! sometimes the close-ups are really awesome! anyhow, I am happy to hear my favorite little guy is doing well. don’t forget to up-date us every once in awhile!! gorilla lover forever!

  13. max says:

    Hey Greg, I am Max the kid you met in March. You let me go on the roof. I saw all the gorillas a week ago. Frank is growing! He was playing with me through the glass. He was also playing with Paul Donn. And then he was sleeping with Imani. Please give me an update on all the gorillas. Hope to see you soon.

    from Max

  14. Diana S. says:

    Thank you Greg for a most interesting read. Good to know that little Frank is in capable hands. Can just picture Auntie Imani letting him learn on his own; and then providing a helping hand. Love the picture of Dad and son! As nancy from MI says he does look most fatherly.

  15. ellie lopez says:

    Thank you Greg for that story! Gorillas are the best animals in the galaxy! – Eddie with help from his mom.

  16. Vito says:

    thanks for the story about Frank!

  17. Kwinnsee says:

    I am an avid reader of this blog and this is the best one I have eaver read. Thanks Greg

  18. kathy says:

    Great update on Frank and I too love the photo of him with his proud father! Good to see he is integrating so well within the troop!

  19. Allen Nyhuis says:

    Nice update about Frank.

    The San Diego Zoo has SO many great exhibits (pandas, koalas, Polar Bear Plunge, etc) that sometimes I forget how great Gorilla Tropics is! Truly wonderful.

    Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor, America’s Best Zoos

  20. Maura says:

    I LOVE Frankie. He is SOOOOOOOOOO adorable and so much fun to watch! I understand Paul Donn’s family comes out every other day, but how can one keep track?

    Is there a phone # I can call to ask if Frankie’s family is out to view that day?

    Frankie’s first birthday is this Friday the 4th. Will there be any celebration going on? like a party, perhaps?

    Will Frankie be on view this Friday?

    I want to celebrate with him. Can I bring him a gift? Can I give him a birthday hug?

    Thank you

    signed:

    A FRANKIE FAN!!

  21. Diana S. says:

    Happy Birthday, Baby Frank!!!!!! I hope you have lots of fun for your birthday. Can’t wait to see you one day.

  22. David Hammill says:

    Great photos of Frank and his klan.What you have is a very happy baby.You also have a extremely proud Pa Pa, Ma Ma, and family.Your exhibit is a true sucess.I would love to be able to experience holding and interacting with Frank.This is one of your jobs reward.Keep up the great work.What you do helps all apes around the world.Thanks for doing what you do.

    The Very Best To You

    David Hammill

    Hollywood,Fl.

  23. Greg says:

    Sorry I have yet to answer many of your questions, but it has been a busy few weeks getting ready for Discovery Days: Absolutely Apes and the birthday celebrations. The most common question seems to be what days Frank is on exhibit, so I will let you guys in on the trick I use to keep track…

    He is out every other day, so I just pick a day in which I know (or knew) that he was out, and mark my calendar with a little “f”. I carry that out for three months at a time, marking every other day from that one with the same “f”. The keeper staff is amazing about keeping those schedules, so this method is very rarely wrong. His Birthday (September 4th) was the last day he was out, so count on him for the 6th, 8th, 10th, etc…

    Of course you could always call our amazing Visitor Assistance folks, who can tell you pretty much anything about what our Zoo has going on, at any given moment. Have fun and I hope to see you all for Discovery Days!

  24. max says:

    Happy birthday Frank!

  25. Chari Mercier says:

    Thanks for the update about Frank! I’ve been wondering how he has been doing in the last few months, and now I know! Sounds like he has been doing great, and the whole gorilla group has been responding very well to him. Hopefully, all of the adult females will be gaining the experience they will need now, so that when one or all of them get pregnant, they will be able to handle raising a baby gorilla on their own without any of the keepers having to intervene again. Keep us updated on all of them, ok?

    Thanks,

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

    PS: Kibibi, the baby female gorilla at the National Zoo in DC, will be going on 8 months this month (Sept.)! She’s doing very well, and her mom, Mandara, has done an excellent job raising her so far. If you go on the Zooborns website, there are alot of pics of baby monkeys and apes that have been born in several zoos in the last couple of months. These pics are sooooo cute, you’ll just fall in love with them! Go check them out, ok? Have fun with your Labor Day holiday!

  26. max says:

    Chari i see Kibibi every day I will give the updates. She is fine sfe was playing with her 2 big brothers today! Stop giving Kibibi updates

  27. Collette says:

    Greg, What an incredible wealth of information you have provided on this blog. Thank you for taking the time to share such detailed and fascinating info about Frank and his beautiful family. It is AMAZING the way he was accepted back into the group and is a true testament to what great care he and the rest of the troop has received from the SDZ. To think…in a normal scenario he would still be in a nursery and no where near his HUGE Silverback dad, Paul. What amazing insight you guys had 😉 Keep up the good work and Happy Birthday baby Frank!

  28. Chari Mercier says:

    Max, I gave the update about Kibibi for EVERYONE to read in case they have not been able to go to the National Zoo website. You need to lighten up about what I write in my comments, ok?

    Now, I do have some news about Atlanta Zoo’s Bornean Orangutan named Miri. Just found out on their news page that Miri will be having her second baby sometime next spring, 2010! She gave birth to Satu, a young male orangutan, 5 years ago, and he still hangs around his mom. Atlanta Zoo has 10 Bornean Orangs on exhibit, and the new baby will make it 11 orangs next spring. Let’s hope that Miri’s pregnancy will be uneventful and successful, ok?

    Didn’t get on the ape cam today since I was at a doctor’s appointment. Will get on the ape cam sometime tomorrow to check them out.

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

  29. max says:

    Sorry Chari I just had a hard day It has been togh recently.

  30. Margaret says:

    Which Orangatan was rolling the full length of the ground in front of the viewing window at 6 PM on 9/16? They were sure having fun, and determined to roll as far as possible. It must have been great for keepers and anyone there in person to watch. The camera moved with the action, so I know at least one person saw it in person.

    Moderator’s note: It was probably Karen; she LOVES to roll!

  31. Margaret says:

    Thanks. She was having a blast yesterday. I had not seen any of them that close to the window in that behavior before. Usually they were sitting and snacking or making faces.

  32. Chari Mercier says:

    Max (#29), just read your short little comment, and I do accept your apology. I know that this economy can make anybody have a bad day; it has been a tough road for all of us.

    It’s been about a week since I have written on this blog. Have been busy with personal stuff at home, appointments, and watching the cutest panda cub on the cams!

    Anyway, I got extremely lucky and blessed a couple of days ago when I got on the NZ gorilla cam, and I FINALLY got the chance to see Momma Mandara and her baby girl, Kibibi, on the cam for the very first time! I have been trying to catch these 2 gorillas on the cam for months, and patience won out! Kibibi stuck close to her mom playing with her and a branch of leaves. One of the male juvenile gorillas was playing tag on her, but Kibibi was doing her own thing. Loved it, you all!

    What’s been going on during Absolutely Apes this weekend? I’m sure that Frank is just enjoying all of the attention from his gorilla troop and the people that have come out to see him and the other apes. How’s Janey doing in her old age? Still painting? Hope she is doing well.

    Gonna go for now. Will be back tomorrow to check the ape cam.

    Chari Mercier 🙂

    St. Pete, FL

    Moderator’s note: Video of Absolutely Apes can be found at http://www.sandiegozoo.org/videos/?bcpid=4552241001&bclid=5172095001&bctid=40958492001

  33. Dianne in Texas says:

    This is a great post, Greg. Thank you. Absolutely everyone loves hearing stories about the babies and the families. San Diego Zoo does a first rate job of exemplifying the importantance of family life, for apes, great cats, elephants, and numerous other wildlife in general. We might never be exposed to these facts, if not for the zoos in America and the rest of the world. Thank you all for what you do in that arena, and for your contribution to conservation, an unmeasurable benefit to all endangered species. SDZ rocks!

  34. Dianne in Texas says:

    Another thought, regarding the cam on your site. If you can’t move the camera to a more friendly environ, I think it would really help the sun glare to put a filter on the lens. Otherwise, it is often impossible to see anything but a washed out view. Just a suggestion. Thanks.

  35. Calvin from Canada says:

    Thanks for this update 🙂

    I heard that Jessica and Winston the gorilla’s were recommended to breed by the SSP this year, do you happen to know if there is a pregnancy yet or if they have been seen copulating?

  36. Max says:

    Jessica is at the Park?

  37. Greg Vicino says:

    To #35 and #36, Calvin and Max

    Actually, that was not a recommendation, and Jessica lives at the Zoo in Memba’s troop.

  38. Calvin from Canada says:

    Oh I forgot that Winston lived at The park, sorry

    I just remembered Jessica was asked to breed with one of the males

  39. Claudia says:

    Recently I have become more interested in animals than before. I am sad that I live 100 miles away. I love the day trip. I love the fact that the window lets you get to and inch close. I am sure that when I visit, there is one female that talks to me with her eyes. I wish I could hug one, of course I guess I would be crushed? is there a way to measure the power? Do you see a loving family as do strangers? Do they recognize keepers?

    Moderator’s note: To learn more about primates directly from the keepers that work with them, please read blog posts in our Apes & Monkeys category.

  40. Claudia says:

    I love the way we get answers, I am sort of new at SDZ blogs, and I love it. Just wanted to say I wish there was a GORILLA cam, because the other Ape cam does not show clearly all the time. I know we are loving the Panda cam, and in summer the Elephant cam cause a couple months ago the babies were in the water, not to leave out Polar Bear swimmers and that blue ball, but Ape cam has a glare, and I love the Gorillas the best. Ours at the SDZ are handsome apes, cuter than Los Angeles Zoo, (sorry LAZoo). There is one female that I love, she is very dark and sleek, and loves to sit against the window, and once when I was there she mimic kissed me on the glass, no SWEAR, does she recognize keepers, or “silver hair”? I have gray hair. I was so shocked I could not even take a picture. I will remember forever. I wish I could see the “bedrooms” of the gorillas like the pandas. Maybe I would not be so impressed if I saw a plain cement square, like the Pandas, no wonder they love to come outside. How is their life on the inside? Love the Gorillas, I didn’t know how much til she “kissed” the glass.

  41. Max says:

    What do you meen cuter than L.A. they are both adorable! Our gorillas are cute to! I go to L.A. almost everyday in the summer.

  42. Claudia says:

    Where are the ape bloggers? I want a close up of the Orangies, they are fun to watch, can the ape cam zoom?

  43. Mary says:

    Does anyone know what gorilla troop was on display on Friday, October 23. 2009? There was a silverback, three other adults, and a baby. Was that Frank and his family?

    Moderator’s note: Yes indeed!

  44. Claudia says:

    Could someone tell us the story again, about the male gorilla with the short name starting with “M” I think, I can’t remember what the Keeper said. However, he did say that one male got “kicked out” of the family?? but you have more than one gorilla family so, I have only been there with Paul Donns family, but a couple times after 4:00 there has been one single male who sits to the side kind of shy. Could you tell us that story again if you havent??? I got to the zoo a little later than normal, and missed alot, because there was only one gorilla….Nov 3

  45. Max says:

    Maka is the male you are thinking of Claudia

    Moderator’s note: Yes, and Greg says he’ll write a blog post about Maka.

  46. Josh says:

    I have recently became very interested in gorillas, and I have a few questions?

    1. I know there are two troops, so are there two gorilla exhibits, or is there just one? To me, it doesn’t make sense to have 2 gorilla troops, and one exhibit; I thinks it’s better to have two exhibits, one for Paul Donn’s troop, and another for Memba’s troop.

    2. Is Frank going to be on exhibit on November 14? I’m coming to San Diego that weekend.

    3. I never understood the Father’s role in a gorilla troop. Can someone explain it to me?

    Moderator’s note: Your questions have been forwarded to the keepers so we can answer your questions accurately. We’ll post their reply here when they have time to get back to us.

  47. Claudia says:

    Thank you so much for answering us, me, in these blogs. I have been a Panda follower, but love the Gorillas as much or more, and wish there was a Gorilla cam. Currently I do not have to cook dinner, so I live vicariously through the blogs. If I ever break a leg, I will be at home reading and typing and watching videos, thanks again

  48. Claudia says:

    Thank you ape came people, for moving the camera around with the Orangies I like to follow them also. Today there was burlap sacks, probably with food in them, which one ape was using as a blanket or shawl, and walking around covering itself. So cute, I also with there would be a Gorilla came someday. Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all animals !

  49. max says:

    Hi Greg. Are you guys going to move Ndjole and Bouendjie to Oklahoma City?

    Greg responds: I actually do not know if that will be the case. It was one of many recommendations from the Gorilla SSP. As of now, they are happily going about their business in sunny San Diego!

  50. Claudia says:

    Some beautiful views of Clyde this Sunday morning, the camera has been zooming lately and thanks greatly. I live far away, but if I lived closer I would visit much more. Do the “Oranges” have actual blankets in their rooms also?, it is 48 degrees here, so it must be cold there also. And who doen’t love a cover over their head now and then right?

    Greg responds: In the bedrooms, the orangutans have blankets, burlap, T-shirts, and other things to wrap up in and play with, but generally not for warmth, as it is pretty warm in their bedroom area. We like to give them things on exhibit that they would naturally use to keep rain off or simply to play with. Whenever there is a chance of rain, we make sure they have palm fronds and other large pieces of palm trees so they can make their own “hats.” Clyde has a propensity for sleeping under anything, so he tends to spend more time than anyone else with something over his head. It is a pretty common thing we see with wild orangutans, and at the Zoo it gives guests a great example of how these guys use things they find in the wild for comfort, stimulation, or simply fun. The biggest challenge with primates is giving them opportunities to change their own environment and daily experience. If I do say so myself, the keepers at the San Diego Zoo are experts at it!

  51. Claudia says:

    Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to all of us animals….some beautiful close up shots this AM of the Siamangs, there is one that wears a “Mud Coat” proudly, or at least everytime I see that one there is a matting that the others dont mess with. I like to see what ever they do. Let me watch more on this gloomy overcast day, and before I know it will be at work again. You are already at work, but its play work.

  52. Claudia says:

    Oh cool ! even the ORANGIES get their close up ! Im sure it must have happened before, but this is my day to view lots of APE antics….

  53. Claudia says:

    Waugh wow…I think I see Indah letting Cinta nurse….(had to look up their names)….I read the babies stay with the moms a long time…I guess and do what babies do also…. wow….cool…about 2:00 up in that METAL TREE..

  54. max says:

    Happy Birthday Paul Donn! And happy late Birthday Memba!

  55. josh says:

    Oh yeah! I forgot it was Paul Donn’s birthday this past sunday. Imani, keep your big man happy. Ndjia, show some brother/sister love. Azizi, you’ve got a great hubby. And finally, Frank, let you old (okay, he’s only 21) man show you how it’s done.

    On my last visit, I saw BOTH Memba’s and Paul Donn’s troop. In the mourning, Memba’s troop was out. I spent a good half hour observing them.

    I went back around 12:30 and saw Paul Donn’s troop out on exhibit. Little Franky was up at the glass beating his chest and making everyone laugh.

    I came to the zoo for Franky, and I saw him acting just like he should.

  56. Claudia says:

    I came to the zoo today for the baby panda, and they only gave people 20 seconds. So after 12, I came over to my favorites, the gorillas. I visited them twice or three times, and each time I smiled and laughed and awed. But I think if Franky is still small it was Paul Donns family? But the Silverback looked like the one in the picture with the real high forhead and frizzed straight up hair, Memba? But do they have a baby too?

    ANYWAY, that family today Sunday, well once I came by and someone fell in or got pushed in the water on the other side of the hill, and they came back around, a female was ALL WET and the baby Frank all wet, but the NICE female was holding and protecting Franky after that. and if it was Paul Donn he seemed angry today, or like he had a headache, he was chasing the females around (not to get a kiss), and banging on the doors (for another piece of apple cause he only got a quarter of it), and running and yelling. I never saw Paul Donn do that, he always seem lay back, I am the King, sit by me if you are lucky etc etc. But the females looked familiar especially the nice one that carries Frank on her back….GREAT GORILLA VIEWING DAY (not a baby panda viewing day).

    Even the Orangies and the Sammies were cute and the Sammies looked black clean and shinny today !!! they even came to the window and didnt stay up on that metal tree. GREAT APE view day. THANK YOU, I gave kisses thru the glass to the mommy that holds Frank. She came up to the window RIGHT BY ME. THANK YOU. I hope Paul Donn gets over his “headache”.

  57. Claudia says:

    Oh I forgot, the Silverback whose family was out when I was there, he came close to the window also and he is the one with a scar over his eye and forhead. I never saw Paul Donn up that close he has never come to the window while I was there, the family was a cool family with 3 females and a baby so I just thought it must be Frankie, and Paul Donn. Apples must be like candy, so you only give them quarters not the whole thing?

  58. Claudia says:

    Howdy was anybody there that day that the female gorillas got wet, saving OR fighting to hold the baby? Another Question: is the Silverback with the scar on his forhead Paul Donn? (I have never seen him that close as the last visit)

    Greg responds: Unfortunately, none of us actually saw the incident and must base our understanding on second-hand observations and our experience with these particular apes. It is highly unlikely that there was an altercation around the baby, as those almost never involve the silverback, and when they do, the baby is usually untouched. What is more likely is that Paul-Donn (silverback) was responding to his half sister Ndjia, who is often the most bold when it comes to antagonizing Paul. It often results in a response on his part, and thus reinforces the behavior. With a young troop like this one, that type of behavior is very normal and fits well within the parameters of wild gorilla behavior.

    All of the individuals in that troop are very conscious of the water and avoid it at all costs, a trait that has clearly been passed on to the baby. However, if Ndjia pushed on Paul while the family (including baby) was down by one of the pools, he could have easily responded by pinning her in or near the shallow water. As with most physical altercations in gorillas, these are large, powerful animals and can create what we refer to as “collateral damage” when they get rough with each other. Babies are often underfoot and can inadvertently get swept up in the melee. It is also very likely that the baby getting knocked into, or close to the water, would have brought a swift end to the confrontation and rallied all three girls to his attention. The resulting behaviors (in which all of the females were focused on the baby and avoiding the silverback) could have easily looked like they were competing for the baby, if taken outside of the context I just described.

    One of the most important rules when observing wild animals is insuring you understand the context in which a behavior (or suite of behaviors) has occurred. This also explains why the motto for the primate keepers at the San Diego Zoo is “context is everything.” There’s always something new at Gorilla Tropics, and no day is the same, so thanks for the question.

  59. Claudia says:

    OH I LOVE the answers we get. I am a little shy to ask a keeper when I am there. Yes we cant see the other pools by the big hills, only where Paul Donn takes his nap. And yes all the females were rally together after that. Maybe they just wanted to teach baby NOT to go in the water, or you will be wet and cold the rest of the day! ! ! Wow I wish I had the money to go on a tour in the wild ! THANK YOU for looking at the blog. Panda blog is a girly thing, so we answer each other alot and are continuous in the “oh how cute” thing, but gorillas are cool to watch. I saw on public television of a wild life center or zoo or national park, where gorillas have their island, and there is water around with sea lions, I think. And they don’t bother each other,cause one does not want to get wet, and the other does not want to be eaten !! Ha Ha

  60. Claudia says:

    Hey I wonder if they notice “gray” hair in any creature? And give me more respect, or loving thru the glass????? I have a bunch of gray wavey hair from the Woodstock era ha ha, and that moma who is the darkest, is a handsome female gorilla who glances sideways, and comes to the window alot when I am there, just my imagination cause maybe they all do that. You can touch them right?? thru protection or bars? Is there ever a backstage event for gorillas?

    Moderator’s note: Small tour groups are sometimes taken to the rooftop of the gorilla exhibit and get a peek through windows to the gorilla bedroom.

  61. Claudia says:

    Do I sign up for that at the very front of the Zoo for like $100 or so (or less he he)? Can someone arrange for a group to visit the rooftop of the gorilla exhibit on February 14? I believe I will visit that day. I will for sure if I knew how to arrange a backstage gorilla talk. Now if you say yes, several hundred of us ape lovers will be there….maybe you can just give me a clue on my email ha ha

  62. Claudia says:

    I am coming to see the Polar Bears this weekend. Hope little Frank will be out on Friday along with Mr. Paul Donn and the ladies. So excited, hope the day will have enough hours to see Yun Zi, and Frankie, and the Polar Bears!

  63. Claudia says:

    well the guy at the front would not get a group together for me to toss an apple to a gorilla. i live too far away to go that often to CHANCE a day they will, like he said. my favorite gorilla family was not out friday anyway, so there.

  64. josh says:

    do the gorillas now start rotate on exhibit? When I went to the zoo, I saw both Memba and Paul Donns’ troop on exhibit (Memba in the mourning, and Paul Donn around 12:30).

    Gorilla keepers respond: Sounds like you were possibly mistaking Maka for Paul Donn. Our schedule is the same with the troops rotating every other day and Maka going out in the afternoon after the troop is rotated inside. We never have both troops out the same day.

  65. Claudia says:

    I think I saw Maka the last time I was there also. He is always by himself, someday to be getting his own family. He is supposed to be “small” but he looks fluffy puffy and soft AND muscular. He keeps looking under the doors on the side. how do you get a family for him? will you have to get some females from another zoo, or will you have to trade him to another zoo? If he is the one I think, he is cool. And there is one I saw with a scar on his forhead but I don’t know the difference exactly because I never saw Paul Donn up close.

  66. Claudia says:

    wonder if a computer wiz could make a page of “meet the Gorillas” like you have for the Orangies……..? and they have for some other zoos

    Moderator’s note: If we ever get a Gorilla Cam, we’ll do just that 😉

  67. josh says:

    Frank was out on Exhibit when I went to the zoo. I know how to i.d. each gorilla. Besides, I always hear Maka is out late in the afternoon. Oh, and I really hope a gorilla cam is installed

  68. Claudia says:

    I got to see the Gorilla Family Paul Donn today, but wrote too much in the Memba family space. I HOPE there is gorilla cam also someday. If you folks are up late sometimes like me, check out the Prague Zoo gorilla cam. LOVE YOU GORILLA PEOPLE and KEEPERS.

    I have to share, what a treat for me to have the gorilla with the “shaved” scar on her back, give me smooches through the glass today…..I just want to hug them, but they may tear my arm off HA HA HA

  69. Dez says:

    Hi. I made my second visit to the zoo last week and my first to the Wild Animal park. I’m just amazed at the gorillas. Can you recommend some books or websites to learn more about them? By the way, Winston is an amazing gorilla!

    Moderator’s note: We do have gorilla info on our Web site: Animal Bytes, Meet the Critters, and Conservation projects. You can even adopt a gorilla this month for Father’s Day! You can help gorillas by recycling your old cell phones at the Zoo and Wild Animal Park, too!

  70. francisco says:

    HOW DID YOU SEPERATED FRANK FROM HIS MOM?