Monday, 2 April 2007

Conservation Conversations 6

Tensions run High in the Gorilla Kingdom at London Zoo

A new enclosure for the Western Lowland gorillas was opened at the Regent Park's zoo (the zoo's biggest building project for 40 years) including tree trunks with ropes between them and a small heated area next to the plate glass to entice the gorilla close to the paying public (http://guardian.co.uk/inpictures). The three gorillas currently in the new enclosure, include 23-year old male ('Bobby'), a 33 year old female ('Ziggy) and a new 14 year old female ('Effie') who is being gradually introduced to the other two. It is hoped that Bobby (the only subject born in the wild and, even he having been rescued from a circus, might well retain little natural behaviour) will mate with Effie, helping the enclosure to eventually house 8 gorillas. This is a worthy project but does come with several difficulties. Firstly, the group size and composition is currently very little like that seen in nature (even 8 would be a small group and there ) and the present three may show a range of atypical behaviours. The fact that the gorillas didn't initially show marked enthusiasm for the new 'state of the art' enclosure confirms that these primates take time to handle change (environmental enrichment is generally a balance between providing more opportunities for 'expression' but not 'swamping' the animals with too much change. Ziggy has, for example, lived in the old enclosure for 23 years (she now have a new environment and a strange sexual 'rival' in rapid sequence). She may not relish sitting close to human observers in order to get warm and could even find her welfare reduced by the changed circumstances. The gorillas also (even in the improved enclosure) range very much.

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