The joys of Anaka!
Hey y’all, and welcome to another addition of Keeper Stories. My name is Sara Fee, and I’m a Senior Keeper for Gorillas. Today I’m going to spend some time focusing on one particular gorilla, because there just isn’t enough time for me to gloat about each of our 18 fabulous gorillas, but catch me in person and I’ll gladly talk your ear off about all of them!
Here at Zoo Atlanta, each of our Gorilla Care Team members are assigned to individual gorillas as their primary trainer. This is in order to build stronger relationships and allows for each gorilla to have specific dedicated time regarding their care, specifically their positive reinforcement training, as the name implies. Here at Zoo Atlanta we focus on husbandry training, which is training for behaviors that help us, as their care team, take better care of them. Not only has it been shown to be more successful having these dedicated trainers for the gorillas, but it also has its perks for the keepers. The more individual time that we get to spend with each gorilla, the more we can learn about them and their unique personalities. While I am assigned to four specific individuals, I’m going to focus this blog on the internet sensation, Anaka! Anaka is a soon to be 9-year-old female (birthday on August 30) who lives in the family group in Habitat 3. She’s the daughter of dad Taz and mom Sukari.
Anaka made her sensational debut, basically at birth, because she has a very unique birthmark on her fingers, and wildly fantastic hair. Gorillas generally have all black skin, but Anaka has several fingers that are partially pink. This happens from time to time with gorillas, sometimes with just small spots on their feet or hands, but Anaka seems to have the most prominent color difference on her fingers.
Anaka has a very strong personality and is very full of energy, like, all the time. If you see her little brother Floyd playing with someone, it is usually her. They have been thick as thieves since the day he was born, starting with just curious interest on Anaka’s part, to piggyback rides, play wrestling, laughing and picking on their other sisters together. Anaka’s second bout with fame came in the wake of a viral video of her and her older sister Merry, spinning on the famous blue swing, with Merry being the rider and Anaka being the expert pusher!
Anaka is a very vocal individual and lets you know when she’s feeling any sort of way. Whether it’s her excited happy grumbles when she’s getting extra attention during a training session, her impatient whines when you’re preparing her treats for a training session, or when she’s ready for dinner with her chimpanzee-like yelps, she’s sure to let you know what’s on her mind.
Anaka is also an A+ student when it comes to positive reinforcement training. She recently participated in her very first voluntary awake cardiac ultrasound! Heart disease in the main cause of mortality for adult gorillas; gathering information from all gorillas for the Great Ape Heart Project is great information and a great learning and enrichment opportunity for Anaka to participate in.
Anaka loves to participate in her training sessions and is one of only four individuals here at Zoo Atlanta who have transferred a few of her cues out on habitat. So if you come to one of our scheduled feedings at Gorilla Habitat 3, keep at eye out for our little pink-fingered princess as her care team members all ask her to demonstrate her knowledge for you to see.
Anaka can also be a bit of a troublemaker, picking squabbles with dominant female Kudzoo and then roping her mom Sukari in to cover for her. She, like her little brother Floyd, loves to play and be silly, with chest beats for attention, tripping her sisters while they walk, and even throwing things at her dad Taz when he’s not looking. All and all, Anaka really is a wonderful, dynamic, silly, energetic ball of personality. When I first started here about three years ago and was paired with Anaka to be her primary trainer, our team lead told me that they like to pair keepers with gorillas they think they have a similar personality to, and I love that Anaka is one of my girls. I am so thankful to get to work with all of the gorillas here at Zoo Atlanta, but Anaka definitely holds an extra special place in my heart.
Senior Keeper, Gorillas