Congo Gorilla Forest Congo Gorilla Forest The Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo in New York City replicates an African rain forest. At 6.5 acres, it is home to 300 animals of 75 species, including one of the largest breeding groups of lowland gorillas in North America. The exhibit provides the gorillas with two seemingly contiguous outdoor areas, totaling 50,000 square feet. The exhibit also encourages visitors to take part in wildlife conservation by allowing them to donate their entrance fee to conservation projects in Africa. More than $6 million has been raised since this exhibit opened in June 1999.
Building a Rain Forest Building a Rain Forest Building an African rain forest in New York City was a massive undertaking. First, a new site was selected to replace Bronx Zoo's old gorilla exhibit that dated back to 1949. Changing the location gave the zoo the opportunity to combine state-of-the-art exhibit design with modern methods of wildlife care and new knowledge of gorilla biology and behavior. Curators, artists, architects, construction teams, and others collaborated to develop a plan for this dynamic facility. A key to the success of the Congo Gorilla Forest was representing and incorporating as many elements of an African habitat as possible, to help stimulate the gorillas' exploration and involve them in natural foraging behaviors. Field researchers, such as Amy Vedder and Bill Weber, who have each spent thousands of hours studying gorillas in Rwanda, were significant participants in the project.
A Shady Spot A Shady Spot A lush mosaic of shady forest pathways, treetop lookouts, bamboo thickets, sunny meadows, and wading pools spreads throughout the Bronx Zoo's exhibit. Ten miles of fabricated vines are seamlessly intertwined among 15,000 living plants of more than 400 species. Giant Ceibas and stilt-rooted Uapacas are some of the 55 fabricated trees that help create a treetop landscape for the western lowland gorillas, the most arboreal subspecies of gorilla.
Gorillas in the Forest Gorillas in the Forest In the wild, gorillas live in groups called troops. Led by an adult male, called the silverback, a troop consists of several females and their offspring. The silverback, distinguished by the gray saddle of hair across his back, is the decision maker and determines when and where his troop will rest or forage. Younger males are driven out when they reach maturity; they remain solitary or join all-male bands until they find mates and form their own groups. Congo Gorilla Forest is home to more than 20 western lowland gorillas living in thriving, reproductive social groups.
Foraging Foraging Lowland gorillas are herbivores, eating fruits, leaves, stems, and other plant matter. Information gathered about foods eaten by wild gorillas is used to inform and create a nutritional diet for zoo gorillas. At the Bronx Zoo, gorillas enjoy healthy meals made up of a variety of fruits, vegetables, and local produce. Keepers scatter seeds and leafy greens around the habitat, encouraging the animals to spend time exploring and foraging. Sometimes, mealtime goes high-tech. Hidden from public view within fabricated trees, electronically timed feeders distribute food items throughout the day. Activities involving food provide stimulating experiences that promote natural gorilla behaviors.
Triska and Suki Triska and Suki Female gorillas reach sexual maturity between the ages of 6 and 8 years; males, between 8 and 13 years. Once he is established as the head of a family group, a silverback will boldly defend his females from other males who might try to mate with them. This helps ensure that baby gorillas in the group are his offspring. The gestation period for a gorilla is similar to that of humans, lasting 8.6 months (approximately 250 to 285 days), and a newborn gorilla may weigh 4 to 5 pounds. Gorilla moms are extremely attentive to and protective of their young. Here, Suki clings to her mother, Triska.
Suki and Kumi Suki and Kumi More than 6 gorillas have been born since the Congo exhibit opened, bringing the total number of Bronx Zoo gorilla babies to 45. One of the best experiences at Congo Gorilla Forest is seeing the interactions of a family group with young gorillas of different ages. Here, Suki and Kumi are browsing on leafy greens. Kumi is the older, born in 1998 to mom Tunuka. Suki, whose name means "beloved," was born on July 10, 2000. Suki's mother, Triska, is a very successful gorilla mom -- she had three other offspring before Suki: Little Joe (1993), Imani (1994), and Chipua (1996).
Young Gorillas Young Gorillas Juveniles Layla, Kumi, and Kongo Mbeli feed on leaves. Young gorillas, male and female, remain with their mothers for many years. Even after they are eating solid foods, juvenile gorillas can continue to nurse until they are three or four years old. They play often with other juveniles in their group and are more arboreal -- climbing in trees and swinging on vines -- than the large adults. Adults, even the silverback, tolerate infant play behavior and sometimes participate in the play of older juveniles and subadult males.
Tunuka Tunuka Few gorillas live into their forties, so at age 41, Tunuka (seen here at the Bronx Zoo, leaning on a fabricated termite mound) was a gorilla "senior citizen" when she and troop mates Timmy and Paki moved to Kentucky in May 2004. Their new home is the recently opened, state-of-the-art gorilla habitat at the Louisville Zoo. The Bronx Zoo participates in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's Gorilla Species Survival Plan. This program oversees the complex match-ups of gorillas around the nation in a collaborative effort to ensure the perpetuation and health of the population of gorillas living in North American zoos.
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Photos courtesy of The Bronx Zoo