In honor of World Gorilla Day on Friday, September 24, we’re sharing all of the gab about the Oklahoma City Zoo’s beloved gorilla family members – courtesy of their caretakers! The Zoo is home to two troops of Western lowland gorillas – a family troop and a bachelor troop. The bachelor troop consists of three individuals – George, 17, Bouendje (Bo), 15, and Bakari, 15; and the family troop consists of seven gorillas – Finyezi (Fin), 3, Azinza, 3, Ruby, 6, Mikella, 17, Emily, 36, Ndjole, 25, and Togo, 33.
As you can imagine, with ten gorillas to care for, the Zoo’s primate caretakers are never short of humorous stories to share. These caretakers have come to know and appreciate each gorilla for every one of their own unique quirks, mannerisms and preferences. We sat down with primate caretaker, Stephanie, to be in the know on the Zoo’s gorilla family:
Q: Stephanie! Thanks for sitting down with us to gab about gorillas. How long have you worked at the OKC Zoo?
Stephanie: “I’ve been a caretaker at the Zoo for eight years. In that time, I’ve been privileged to create a strong bond with the Zoo’s gorilla family.”
Q: What is something that most individuals wouldn’t know about gorillas?
Stephanie: “A little unknown fact is that gorillas actually make laughing vocalizations when playing with one another.”
Q: Now, let’s get the gab! What are some unique quirks of the Zoo’s gorilla family?
Stephanie: “The gorillas are full of personality! It’s a lot of fun getting to know their individual quirks. For example, Ndjole always carries her browse (leaves) on her back when foraging throughout her habitat.
Our largest bachelor gorilla, George, appears to “pose” in funny positions quite often. George also enjoys playing chase with his caretakers. He will run back and forth behind the glass, expecting his caretakers to follow him.
Our youngest gorilla, Fin, likes to cover himself completely in bedding – specifically wood wool – and then playfully jumps out and runs off.”
Q: Let’s talk about mannerisms and behaviors! What are some funny behaviors of the gorillas?
Stephanie: “Because each gorilla has their own personality, their behaviors and mannerisms vary wildly! Gorillas are highly intelligent, a quality that we are privileged to observe and encourage each day.
Let’s start with Togo, the silverback of the family troop! Togo can often be seen playing with the juvenile gorillas in his troop. However, he has different play styles depending on the juvenile. For example, Togo will gently play with and tickle the youngest gorillas, Azinza and Fin, while he’s more likely to roughhouse and chase six-year-old, Rubi. Also, as social media fans observed in a recent video shared on the Zoo’s platforms, Togo seemingly despises the rain. When it begins raining, Togo scrunches up his nose in dislike and runs bipedally (on his two rear legs) toward his indoor habitat. For a look at this humorous behavior, click here.
The gorillas of the bachelor troop also have some entertaining mannerisms. While the Zoo’s other ape species, chimpanzees and orangutans, greatly enjoy cuddling with blankets, the Zoo’s gorillas are not as fond of them. However, Bakari is the only gorilla in our animal family that utilizes blankets regularly. In fact, he can be spotted laying on blankets and making nests of them at bedtime. Bachelor gorilla, Bo, has the loudest vocalizations of any other gorilla. He apparently has a lot to gab about! Lastly, the bachelor boys do not play with one another often, but when they do, they prefer to play secretly. Funny enough, when a caretaker walks by as they are playing, they will immediately stop.”
Q: We all have our own preferences – favorite foods, hobbies and more. What are some of the individual preferences of the gorillas?
Stephanie: “With this question, we’re spilling the “tea” on Togo! While most gorilla’s favorite food is fruit, Togo prefers leafy greens such as romaine and kale. To confirm his indifferent behavior toward fruit, we’ve also learned that Togo is not a fan of tea, specifically caffeine-free fruit tea. When he first tried it, he spit it out immediately.
While we’re on the subject of fruit, we’ve observed that the bachelor boys have their own favorite fruits when training with their caretakers. Fruit is considered a high-value reward for the gorillas as they participate in training sessions. However, when training, we must bring with us various fruits to accommodate all three bachelor boys. Bo’s favorite fruit is watermelon, George likes apples and Bakari prefers pears.
Other funny preferences, or lack thereof, includes Bo’s dislike for sugar-free jello. He is the only gorilla in the Zoo’s animal family that turns down jello when it’s offered to him. Lastly, three-year-old Azinza’s favorite form of enrichment is buckets. And yes, you read that correctly. Azinza is highly interested in buckets and enjoys sitting in them.”
Q: Stephanie, thanks for this super fun chat session on the gorillas! Before we sum up this conversation, can you share one of your favorite memories of the gorillas?
Stephanie: “There are so many! This is not a simple question. However, many of the primate caretakers’ favorite memories are centered around three-year-old, Fin, and his introduction to his foster mom, Emily. For the first six months of his life, Fin was cared for by a team of volunteers and caretakers 24/7. The decision to hand-raise Fin was made after it was observed that his birth mom, Ndjole, was not demonstrating maternal behaviors toward him.
Because gorillas are highly social and complex animals, it was important from day one for Fin to be integrated into the family troop. The first gorilla he met, before interacting with other members of the troop, was Emily. Thankfully, Emily claimed Fin as her own. My favorite memories during the time of Fin’s integration include watching Fin and Emily share their nest when sleeping, and laughing as Azinza and Fin began playing with one another.”
Now that you’ve gotten familiar with Zoo’s gorilla family, don’t forget to save the date for the Zoo’s World Gorilla Day celebration on Friday, September 24, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. – sponsored locally by Bob Moore Subaru. Marking its fifth anniversary, World Gorilla Day, is an annual event created the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF), that inspires people all over the world to come together for one common goal – to take action for gorillas.
DFGF is one of the OKC Zoo’s legacy conservation partners and funds provided by the Zoo are used to support operations at the Karisoke Research Center, which is the base for DFGFI’s field activities. In 2019, the Zoo provided additional support by sending representatives to Rwanda to create a series of educational videos for DFGF that explains the organization’s conservation initiatives. On World Gorilla Day, Zoo guests will find activities, photo opportunities and a gorilla enrichment session happening at the Zoo’s gorilla habitat. Event activities are free with Zoo admission.
You can help gorillas this World Gorilla Day by donating old or used cellphones to the Gorillas on the Line Cellphone Challenge now through Friday, September 24, 2021. Small electronics frequently contain a substance called coltan, and 80 percent of the world's coltan supply is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, also home to many gorillas. Mining for coltan threatens the habitats of gorillas, chimpanzees, okapi and other endangered species. The coltan from these donated devices is re-used and reduces the need to mine for the compound in gorilla habitats. Through World Gorilla Day, guests who donate a device will receive a free general admission ticket to the Zoo. Donated items can be dropped off for recycling in the Zoo’s Guest Services office in the entry plaza.