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Willie B., Jr. and the formation of his troop

Hey there, it’s Cassie from the Gorilla Care Team with an update on Willie B., Jr.’s group! Can you believe it’s been almost a full year since we welcomed Shalia, Kambera, and Amari to Zoo Atlanta to join Willie B., Jr.?  The formation of the group has gone very well, albeit a little slower than we had hoped. I think we can all agree that moving to a new place and meeting new friends can be difficult even for us humans; can you imagine what it’s like for a gorilla? Each gorilla has their own personality and limitations, so we could only move forward with introductions as fast as they were comfortable with. That being said, I am happy to report that they have been fully integrated for the better part of this year and are continuing to form strong bonds within the group.

When I last updated you, Shalia, Kambera and Amari had only been at Zoo Atlanta for a little over a month, so we have learned so much more about each of them since then. Shalia continues to be a pretty laid-back gorilla and is really engaging with enrichment and training sessions with her care team.  Shalia is also the foodie of the group and is always ready for mealtime. She is always the first to finish her chow and is more than happy to clean up any chow the other girls might have left behind. This also means we have to keep a close eye on her weight. Our New Year’s resolution for her is to lose a couple pounds; I think we can all relate to that.

Kambera has continued to be a very confident gorilla, but is also a bit stubborn at times. She has a bit of a dominant personality, and she knows what she likes and how she likes it, which can be frustrating for the care team at times, but also makes her surprisingly endearing. Like Shalia, she is also extremely engaging with enrichment and is probably the most proficient at figuring out the more difficult enrichment devices we provide. Kambera has also proven to be a very independent gorilla, and although she has formed bonds with the other gorillas in the group, she also appreciates her alone time and can occasionally be found napping or hanging out by herself.

Amari has been the most surprising to get to know over the last year. Although she is the youngest gorilla in the group and in theory should be the most subordinate, she has actually taken on more of a leadership role among the other girls and has really gained a lot of confidence within the group and often plays peacemaker. Amari has also formed a very strong bond with Willie B., Jr. She usually isn’t far behind him as he moves around the habitat or indoor areas and often chooses to make a nest close by when it’s time to settle down for the night. Amari is also incredibly smart; she learns new behaviors during her training sessions extremely fast and is always eager to participate. She has a very sweet and trusting personality, which makes her a favorite not only within the group but also with her care team. 

But what about Willie B., Jr.? Before the girls arrived at Zoo Atlanta, he had been housed with another male, Jasiri, as well as spent some time by himself while he waited for the girls to arrive, so needless to say, he had a lot to learn in terms of social behavior. Initially he didn’t seem impressed with the girls, but did want to make sure they each knew that he was in charge. Gorillas show their dominance in a variety of ways whenever they encounter an unfamiliar gorilla. They might “posture,” which means they will try to make themselves look as big as possible but will also avoid eye contact. They might also throw things, such as enrichment items or branches that are available, to try to make loud, scary noises. If they really want to get their point across, they might run past or towards the other individual, which we call a drive-by or bluff charge. Essentially, they would run past as close as possible or stop short of actually making contact with the other individual.  Less likely, though definitely possible, is making physical contact with the other individual. These instances are often very quick and don’t usually result in injury. The idea is to let the other individual know they aren’t someone to be messed with.

We saw plenty of behaviors like these from Willie B., Jr., which was completely expected, and the girls understood very quickly they needed to respect him. As keepers, we played a part in this process as well. For instance, when the group would get fed, whether it’s their chow, fruit, or even a treat, it was important for us to always feed Willie B., Jr., first, and often last as well, to reduce the possibility of unnecessary altercations. This helped instill in each of the females that he was indeed in charge and created a level of respect among the females in the group. Willie B., Jr. has since settled into his role and has become more relaxed and confident and has formed bonds with each of the girls. He has come a long way in the last year, and we’ve been seeing a lot of exciting behaviors within the group. We are all very excited about how far this group has come, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for them! Keep an eye out for them on Habitat 4 the next time you visit the Zoo.

(photo: Josh M.)

Cassie M.
Keeper III, Primates

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