The primate keepers will tell you, there’s something about Mary the Mueller’s Gibbon. She is undisputedly the Queen of Taronga Zoo, and at the ripe old age of 52, she has certainly earned the title.
Mary lives on Gibbon Island in a large fig tree in which she sits and views her entire ‘kingdom’. Taronga visitors see her gracefully swinging through the branches on her muscled old arms but few people know much about this grand old primate.
People in the know will tell you, Mary is one unique personality. She calls the shots in her relationships and picks and chooses who she associates with. Mary loves to test the new zoo keepers and when they come each morning to clean her exhibit, she has been known to lock them in by sitting on top of the doorway and refusing to let them out.
But, she can be a sensitive little soul and some days Mary loves nothing more than a groom and will rumble and chatter as the keepers comb around her ears. Other days she will act all aloof, preferring her own company as she surveys everything from her fig tree.
The grand old primate came to Australia in 1960 as an infant from Borneo and found a home at Taronga Zoo. She doesn’t have extravagant tastes. Her favourite food is lettuce and she is quite partial to a hard boil egg. Mary’s hauntingly beautiful song which echoes throughout the Zoo grounds is one of the delights of a trip to Taronga, just don’t try and record it. Mary instinctively knows what you are trying to do and will instantly go mute!
And the reason why she lives alone in the tree? Well gibbons are one of the most romantic species of all primates, they mate for life. After Mary’s companion ‘Robinson’ passed away in 1986 her keepers did try to pair her up with other males, but Mary wouldn’t have anything to do with them. In fact, stories exist of her relentlessly picking on the boys, throwing sticks and generally making life so unbearable for them, that she literally drove them away.
There is definitely something about Mary!