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The specialized care of bachelor gorillas

You may or may not know that Zoo Atlanta is home to one of the largest western lowland gorilla populations in any North American zoo. Our population is made up of 20 individuals within five separate groups.

Three of these groups are what we call bachelor groups, which are made up of only subadult and adult male gorillas. In the wild, as younger males get older they emigrate out of their natal groups and either live on their own for a while or join up to create these rather fluid bachelor groups, with males joining and leaving frequently. Here at Zoo Atlanta, we emulate this same situation with the creation of our bachelor groups of either two or three in size.

Of late we have been giving some extra attention to our youngest bachelor group: Mbeli (15) , Kal (12), and Gunther (11), as they continue to grow and make strides in becoming mature silverback gorillas. As these three develop, we as a gorilla team are beginning to implement new care strategies to meet their needs.

While still social animas, enjoying playing and wrestling with each other from time to time, at this stage in their lives, the boys do not interact with each other as much and prefer to take time for themselves more frequently. We cater to these changes by altering their enrichment and training programs, as well as changing other husbandry needs such as feeding strategies. Male gorillas love to display and show how tough they are to other individuals. In the wild, this would include shaking and breaking branches. We have begun to offer our boys more items to use in their displaying, such as barrels, balls and other larger, hard plastic items. This allows them to exhibit these natural behaviors in a healthy manner.

Gone are the days when we can have the three boys sitting side by side for a fruit feeding or training session inside. Now that they are almost grown up there is too much competition for food. So when the boys are in closer quarters and preferred food items are at stake, we have begun to cooperatively feed and train with a gorilla care team member working with each individual simultaneously. This keeps everyone content during these sessions.

Make sure to check back and see how Mbeli, Kal and Gunther progress. As they continue to mature they are sure to have some big milestones ahead of them!
Josh Meyerchick
Senior Keeper, Primates

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