It was a sad day for primate keepers when our eldest juvenile female gorilla, Mbeli, departed for Melbourne Zoo last Tuesday.
Our keepers have been working very closely with her over the past few months training her for this big day. Mbeli came to be understand basic cues like target, stay and hold. This enabled our keepers to move her calmly away from the gorilla group leading to a perfect separation when all was ready for her to go to Melbourne.
The day started off as any normal day in the Gorilla House, with keepers meeting to discuss the morning’s events and then positioning the gorillas. All went smoothly until the family realised what was happening and Kibabu, our silverback, became very protective. He let the keepers know he wasn’t happy with what was going on in no uncertain terms, even vocalising at them. A lot of this is just bluff and is quite natural for a silverback to react in this way. This is part of a silverback’s job to protect his family and that was exactly what Kibabu was doing. While all this was going on, Mbeli stayed focused on her keeper which showed the trust and bonds that we as keepers build with the animals we work with. Once Mbeli had left the gorilla house everything quietened down. Kibabu did look for her throughout the day, calling with soft vocals. Fataki our other eldest male juvenile was also upset at the change as they were great playmates. Some days you would see them using each other to stand on so they could collect figs from the tree or just enjoying a good rough play fight. Fataki will have to settle for his younger brother Fuzu or Kimya our other juvenile.
During the night our keepers monitored Mbeli ahead of her early morning flight. Mbeli initially was a little upset and missed her family in the early hours but soon settled down with a few carrots and some interactions and reassuring words from her keeper. Both didn’t get much sleep that night. As morning approached Mbeli was loaded onto the truck for the drive to to Sydney Airport. Overall the whole transition went extremely smoothly and she settled into her new family life nicely.
The group is already settling back into normal routine with their keepers. Mbeli leaving her family is a natural progression for any gorilla. It enables females the opportunity to breed with another silverback and gives the young males time to learn life lessons which will help them in their life of becoming a silverback. In the coming years Mbeli will play her part in the breeding and education programs about this endangered species.
There’s now eight gorillas in our family.
You can play a part in saving this species by donating your old mobile phone to the “They’re Calling You” campaign to help raise funds and awareness about reducing mining in Gorilla habitats in Africa for a mineral called Coltan which is used in some mobile phones. Every phone recycled, reduces the need to mine and contributes to Gorilla conservation.
Gorilla keeper, Lisa.