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Caring for gorillas in their golden years

At Zoo Atlanta, we have gorillas of all ages, from 1-year-old Floyd to Ozzie, who’s turning 60 this year. As you can imagine, a 1-year-old has a lot more energy than a 60-year-old.  Just like humans, as gorillas age, their bodies go through normal wear and tear. For our geriatric group of gorillas, who along with Ozzie include Choomba and Kuchi, we have made a number of accommodations to make sure they continue to receive the best care possible.

One of the biggest adjustments we have made for Ozzie’s group is diet presentation.  Usually we cut gorilla diets up small and scatter it on habitats for individuals to forage for over the course of the day.  Ozzie, however, can sometimes have difficulty picking up smaller items due to dexterity loss. For this reason, his vegetables and fruit are cut into much larger portions that are easy to hold.  Since Choomba’s and Ozzie’s teeth have shown signs of wear, we soak their biscuit diet to make it softer for them to eat.  Additionally, we offer them fluids multiple times a day to keep them extra hydrated.

The biggest adjustment we make when it comes to geriatric care is to the individuals’ physical environment.  The next time you visit us, be sure to check out Gorilla Habitat 2, where Ozzie’s group spend most of their days.  Compared to any of our other habitats, you will notice several differences. You may notice that most of their resting areas are closer to or on the ground. We purposefully keep the hammocks close to the ground, so they can get in and out of them with ease and avoid injury due to a fall from a high spot.  We also offer additional bedding options, including an extra-large durable mattress bed on the ground for any of them to use. Ozzie is a big fan of the bed and tends to hog it from Kuchi and Choomba!  Habitat 2 in itself is suitable for small geriatric groups since it is smaller in size and flatter than other habitats, which reduces the risk of injury due to uneven surfaces.  We also make sure temperatures are a little bit warmer before letting them outside for the day.

Mental and physical stimulation is very important when providing care to geriatric gorillas. We provide enrichment to them multiple times a day.  Enrichment on habitat and in their indoor area is usually placed within easy reach for their comfort so they do not have to over extend themselves.  We also must keep in mind that as gorillas get older it can be difficult for them to manipulate items, as we discussed earlier with Ozzie’s dexterity.  In these cases, we give them enrichment items that are easier to use, such as feeders with bigger holes so they can get food out of the items more easily. When scattering their food, we tend to do it in a smaller area, so they do not have to travel as far.
While Ozzie, Choomba, and Kuchi might not be as young and limber as they once were, we make sure they are still happy and healthy.  Be sure to swing by Habitat 2 and say hello to them the next time you visit Zoo Atlanta.

(photo by Josh M.)

Sam D.
Keeper I, Primates

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