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Pongo's Primates

Meet Pongo the Sumatran orangutan and his fellow primates, and get an animal care professional’s perspective on the care and training of our amazing orangutan, gorilla, monkey and lemur collections.
 

Wednesday, July 29
With the hot weather that we’ve had lately, we have been bringing in Taz’s gorilla group in the afternoons to give them a chance to cool off and rehydrate themselves. We offer them Crystal Light or “orange water” (oranges squeezed into water) to drink. It’s especially important that the younger gorillas stay hydrated.  
 
Of course, while they’re inside, it also becomes playtime! We had a great time recently watching 5-year-old Henry and 4-year-old Merry Leigh take turns “flying” in one of their swings. They would lie through the ring on their belly and then use their hands to pull themselves up the mesh as high as they could go. Then they would let go and “fly” around through the air and swat at any other gorillas in the room with them, including Taz! It was very entertaining! 
 
After everyone had all of the juice they wanted and they had an opportunity to play, it was time to go back outside for the fruit that we scattered for them all over the exhibit. By scattering their fruit, we ensure that they stay busy and visible for all of their fans for as long as possible. So come on by and visit the family group; you might just get to see the young gorillas having an awesome play session!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates

Wednesday, July 22 
When bringing in Geoffroy’s tamarins for the night, I heard a vocalization I’d never heard before. It sounded distressed, so I rushed to see what was wrong. 
I found two of the tamarins, Marco and Isabel, face-to-face with their hands intertwined. Between their clawed fingers: a cricket. 
 
Tamarins often eat insects in the wild. Insects are a high-value food in the tamarin world, and our Geoffroy’s tamarins also enjoy their taste.Zookeepers give the monkeys insects such as mealworms and crickets on a regular basis to simulate their wild diet. Food-sharing is a common behavior among tamarins; however, this time sharing was out of the question. Apparently Marco was upset that Isabel got her fair share of the goods and let everyone know with a squeal.

Fortunately, the two of them soon made up, as it was time for bed, and the tamarins retired to their nest box for the night.
Whitney Taylor
Keeper I, Primates

Wednesday, July 15
Pelari has become adventurous out in Orangutan Habitat One. Most days you can see him playing along the hill by himself, and he has even been seen down at the public viewing areas (great spot for pictures!). Recently, he has started climbing on top of the climber and swinging down from it into the hammock. Miri is a great mom and always has her eye on him, but she lets him get a little more independent each day. When visiting the Zoo, check your maps for the activity schedule; you don’t want to miss the scheduled public feeding for this yard. This is another great opportunity to see Pelari in action!
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates


Wednesday, July 8
If you ever get to see a drill monkey in your lifetime, then you are very lucky! They are found only in four zoos in North America, one of which is Zoo Atlanta! Their numbers are dwindling in the wild, some estimating as low as 3,000 left in a very limited habitat. This means they are one of Africa’s most endangered mammals largely because of habitat destruction and bushmeat hunting.
 
Drills like to forage in thick, dense primary forests in west-central Africa, so they are very difficult to research extensively in the wild. Here, we do research and observations to document the social interactions between our drills. Come visit our six drills: Bobby, Inge, Lucy, Achi, Drew and Amaka at the Monkeys of Makokou exhibit on your next trip to the Zoo! 
Jane Solimine
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Wednesday, July 1
One thing I’ve learned here at Zoo Atlanta is that kids will be kids, no matter what the species! We on the Primate Team have in our care one non-primate species: the Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths. As our baby sloth has grown, it has become playful and feisty with mom Bonnie, often taking food right out of her mouth! Fortunately, eating bits of vegetables from mom and licking her leftovers is important for the intestinal development of the infant, so Bonnie is happy to share.
Jane Solimine
Seasonal Keeper, Primates


Tuesday, June 23
Keepers have been doing everything they can to keep the primates and sloths cool during this heat wave! Aside from frozen fruitcicle treats given out as fast as they can be made, keepers have been plugging in the mister fans, turning on the sprinklers, and filling up tubs with water to give the animals the choice to get wet!  We have a mister system built into the top of the sloth enclosure that goes off at least four or five times a day. Sloths love real rain showers, and our misters are the next best thing!  Now I know why the keepers happen to be feeding the sloths at the exact time the misters are set to go off—pretty refreshing!
Laura Mayo
Assistant Curator of Primates


Thursday, June 11
Pongo keeps getting bigger and bigger. He appears to realize this fact as well. Shifting Pongo and his family inside for the night has turned into a show in itself. The little guy will not slow down, running around climbing and hanging all over the place. For the first half hour after he is shifted in he wants to do nothing but play and ham it up.  
 
Usually when shifting our orangutans in for the night, we immediately give them their p.m. diets along with an enrichment item.  Lately with Pongo, we have to give him almost an hour to bounce around get rid of some of his energy; otherwise, he just drops his food and the vacuum cleaner that is Blaze comes up and steals it.
 
Still, it's a lot of fun watching him play like this every evening.
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates

Tuesday, June 9
As Satu demonstrates, bamboo shoots are not just for pandas! The orangutans love them as well. The orangutans receive browse (edible plants) year-round, but "bamboo shoot season" seems to be a favorite time of year. Bamboo plants send up new shoots only once a year, and they are soft and tender and seem to be delicious. The orangutans love tearing into them to get to the inner, most tasty part of the plant. It is always interesting to observe these orangutans demonstrating the same behaviors and techniques their wild orangutan cousins use to obtain food from plants in the wild.  
 
This year, both Pongo and Pelari were watching their families to learn how to eat the shoots, and Pongo started trying it on his own. He still doesn’t have the technique yet, but Blaze was happy to share some of hers.
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates

Thursday, June 4
On June 7, Charlie, one of our bachelor gorillas, is turning 19 years old. Charlie was born here at Zoo Atlanta and is currently our “biggest” gorilla, weighing in at over 400 pounds! I’m sure we’ve all heard a joke relating to, “What does a 400 pound gorilla do? Pretty much anything he wants!” That isn’t always the case, though. Most gorillas live in social groups and have to learn to get along with other members in their group. Here at the Zoo, they also need to do what keepers ask of them so that we can provide them with the most outstanding care possible. 
 
Examples of this include shifting indoors or outdoors, training, and working with Veterinary staff. How do we do this? It all goes back to training and having a good rapport with the animals in our care. It’s a very important part of our jobs to establish these relationships with the animals we work so closely with. It makes daily husbandry, care and training easier for all involved, and it can be a great highlight to our day! That being said, we work with almost all of the primates (especially the apes), via “protected contact.” That means that there is always a protective barrier between us and these very powerful animals. Keepers are often asked what the best part of our jobs is, and having a good relationship with the animals is usually top of the list!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates

Tuesday, June 2
"Bang bang bang!” That's a typical noise you hear in the late afternoon inside orangutan holding. These noises are the orangutans knocking on the doors to their indoor areas as they wait to come inside for the night. Usually you can tell if it's just their hands they are using or if it's some type of object they have found in the yard, which would be sticks or rocks. These are great tools to let the keepers know they want to come in or that possibly they may be up to some type of mischief. Orangutans are intelligent, strong animals, and if they can break something they certainly will ... why would they do this? Well, just because it's fun.

Chantek likes to bring rocks up to the building and chip away at the door, letting us know he's ready to come in. Before we bring him inside for the night, we ask to see his hands and feet and ask for him to open his mouth. Chantek and a few others like to sneak rocks or sometimes large sticks into the building. Chantek knows the deal, though; if he has something, he needs to leave it in the yard. This usually works 99 percent of the time, but on occasion, he will pull a fast one on us and bring something in. Once inside, he will keep it hidden until we’re done feeding him and then whip it out. He knows he’ll get a special treat for trading it to us, which is so clever! Who’s training who? There's never a dull moment working with orangutans!
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates

Thursday, May 21
I have been lucky enough to spend my first couple weeks on the job meeting and caring for the Primate Department’s non-primate members, the Hoffmann’s two toed sloths, and especially Bonnie and her new baby! One of the highlights of my day is seeing those two cute faces looking back at me! We had been waiting since Christmas to see when the baby would come, so when I was working the morning that Primate Keeper Lynn found some little legs wrapped around Bonnie at our morning check, there was lots of excitement among all the Zoo staff. 
 
It is amazing how fast the little guy is growing and developing. Fortunately, everything went perfectly, and baby started nursing from day one. Within its first week of life, the infant was already exploring its environment, grabbing the mesh, walls and branches around it. In the second week it started climbing up to Bonnie’s mouth to happily lick her and get some scraps of food. And now the baby is being offered a little solid food of its own. Bonnie is doing an awesome job as a first-time mom, and I cannot wait to see our baby sloth grow and venture outside this summer!
Jane Solimine
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, May 19
While my primary focus is on gorillas, I do love all primates. Especially lemurs! What's so cool about lemurs, you ask? Well, three of my favorite lemur facts that stick out in my mind include: 
1.    Lemurs have stink fights! In a stink fight, two males mark their own tails with stinky smells such as urine, and then they wave them around at each other.
 
2.    Ringtailed lemurs like to sunbathe just like me! They face the sun and hold their heads high and arms out toward the sun to catch some rays.
 
3.    The word lemur means “ghost.” Lemurs got this name for their loud calls in the forests of Madagascar. Humans said it sounded like ghosts were out there. It’s a very unique sound that even gets the gorillas to turn their heads to see what all the commotion is about.
 
There are so many fun lemur facts, and I'd like to encourage you to come out to the Zoo and meet our two lemur species (ringtailed and black-and-white-ruffed) in person and even have the chance to feed them during a Wild Encounter.  
Jodi Carrigan
Lead Keeper, Primates

Thursday, May 14
With spring in full swing, Merry, Andi and Anaka are enjoying the warm sunny days. Make sure to check them out on your next visit.

(Photo by Jennifer Williams)

Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates


Tuesday, May 12
While they aren’t primates, the sloths fall under the care of the Primate Team here at the Zoo, and on April 29, I experienced one of the best moments of my zookeeping career. I was doing the morning check in the sloth exhibit and climbed the ladder to check on Bonnie. As I climbed up, I got a glimpse of something on Bonnie’s side and couldn’t believe what I saw – a tiny arm and two tiny claws holding on tight to Bonnie. I couldn’t believe that this was the day we had been waiting for – the day Bonnie gave birth. I grabbed some food to give to Bonnie so that I could get her to lift her head so I could make sure she was okay and assess the infant. As expected, she responded and eagerly consumed some sweet potato and squash, allowing me a better look. I could then see that the infant looked great – it was alert and had a very strong grip on Bonnie. Since sloths do not have hands, they use their strong pads and claws to cling to their mother’s hair while lying on her stomach. I have heard of several sloth infants that have been affectionately nicknamed “Velcro” because of their amazing grip. Bonnie appeared to be doing well too, and she was very attentive and nurturing to her infant. These were excellent signs since she is a first-time mom.
 
The keepers continue to monitor the infant and Bonnie closely and make sure the infant is developing normally and bonding well with Bonnie. We are charting the infant’s milestones and it is progressing well – nursing was observed on the first day, and now, when it is just over a week old, it is starting to become interested in Bonnie’s vegetables and is starting to taste the food as she eats it. Sloth infants develop very fast, as they are born with a full set of teeth, eyes open, and ears developed. The baby is also starting to explore under the very watchful eye of Bonnie and is starting to reach out a front foot to touch its surroundings while it is climbing on Bonnie. Bonnie is very patient with being climbed on and slowly encourages the infant back to her stomach when it starts reaching too far. The infant only explores when Bonnie is resting; when she is active and climbing around, it holds on tight for the ride.
 
It is amazing to watch this infant grow and to watch Bonnie do such a great job as a mom. Stay tuned for updates as to when Bonnie and the infant will be on exhibit!
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, May 5
On May 27, one of our young bachelor gorillas, Mbeli, is turning 13. Mbeli was the first gorilla baby born here at Zoo Atlanta after I started working in the Primate Department. Since he was my “first” gorilla baby, he is definitely one my favorites! I remember it like it was yesterday...
 
It was Memorial Day, and I was working the closing shift. When it was time to bring in the group, I noticed they were a little slow to come in the building. All of a sudden our female Banga popped in the door holding a tiny wet infant! Obviously we knew Banga was due to give birth soon, but it seems like the majority of infants are born late at night or in the early morning hours before the keepers come in for the day, so it was a bit of a surprise! I was excited to be the first human to lay eyes on the new baby! Banga was an excellent mother and immediately started cleaning and inspecting her new infant. She held him up to look at him, and we were able to tell it was a boy. Sometimes keepers aren’t able to get a good look at the babies right away since the mothers usually keep the infants very close to their bodies. Lucky for us, Banga wanted to hold him up for a good look as well!
 
Mbeli still has a lot of growing to do. In the next couple of years, we will really see some big changes as he becomes a full-grown silverback. Males usually mature between 13-15 years of age. Mbeli is currently considered a “blackback” because he hasn’t yet begun to get the distinctive silver coloring on his back that the mature males have. Mbeli will also begin getting the large sagittal crest that the males get, and he’ll continue to get taller and more muscular. It’s always so amazing to watch the apes we’ve known as infants turn into mature adults, and for some, to eventually have their own families.
 
Mbeli’s name comes from a large, swampy natural forest clearing in Africa’s Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park known as Mbeli Bai. He and his group-mates, Kali and Gunther, take turns with Willie B., Jr., and Jasiri in Habitat Four. Please look for them on your way to Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience
 
(Photo by Jennifer Williams)

Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates

Thursday, April 30
One of the additional responsibilities I have is to recruit and coordinate our internship program.  As an intern with the Primate Department, interns are able to observe all the husbandry tasks that we do within a day. Some of those things are cleaning and feeding of the animals, making enrichment for the primates, observing and possibly assisting with some training, cutting browse, basic primate knowledge and observation, and any other projects that would benefit the animals. Interns get a special look at what goes on behind the scenes, and I’m sure many of them would tell you that no two days are the same!
 
New interns rotate through the department three times a year. If you are interested in applying for one of these positions, please visit our Internships page! 
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates

Tuesday, April 28
Last month was an exciting one in the world of monkeys! We brought in a new drill monkey , Amaka, from Audubon Zoo. Amaka was born here to one of our females, Drew. Right now, we are in the process of introducing as many of our six drills as possible into one group. Primate intros can take some time. We need to make sure everyone is getting along well between indoor holding rooms first. Then we can put them together and watch closely what the dynamics are between group members. Drew took to Amaka right away, even having been separated from her daughter for several years. They sat grooming much of the first day they were together. 
 
Bobby, our only male, lives with Inge ( Amaka’s grandmother), Drew ( Inge’s daughter) and now Amaka . It was very cute to watch Bobby protect Inge during the first intro. Inge, the grand elderly lady of the monkey building, likes her space, but also had some interactions with the others. Look for them in Small African Primate Habitat One in The Ford African Rain Forest. They will alternate with Lucy and Achi , our other two drills, and the two Wolf’s guenons. Later this season, we hope all six drills and the two Wolf’s guenons may be seen interacting in Habitat One! 
Michele Dave
Keeper II, Primates

Thursday, April 23 
I always enjoy watching our animals grow up and get more adventurous. Pelari, our 1-year-old Bornean orangutan, has really started to become more independent as he gets older. Recently, I observed him climbing up enrichment toys, then swinging from a fire hose, and then jumping into a pile of wood wool, and scurrying about before climbing up to do it all over again. Then, the other night, he did not want to come over to consume his afternoon diet; instead he was swinging and playing upside down on a piece of fire hose. I finally got him to take a break and eat, but then he immediately went off to play again when he was done. It seems just yesterday he had to cling to Miri or hold onto the mesh and wouldn’t venture off on his own. But he is taking after his big brother Satu and playing more and more!
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates


Tuesday, April 21
Kekla, the first gorilla born at Zoo Atlanta, turned 26 on March 15. Kekla’s name means “dawn” in Bawanese. He is the son of Ozzie and Paki (deceased). Ozzie is the oldest male gorilla in the world at 54 years old. 
 
At 7 years of age, Kekla became part of the Zoo’s first bachelor group. He is now a member of a bachelor group with his half-brothers Stadi and Charlie. They can be seen in Gorilla Habitat One in The Ford African Rain Forest. Kekla has distinctive light brown eyes and has many human admirers who think he is the best-looking male gorilla ever! 
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper, Primates


Thursday, April 16
With all this yellow pollen, it is no secret that spring is finally here, and the animals definitely love this warm weather! Warm weather means that we can have all our animals at the Zoo on exhibit, although there are a few who have yet to join in on the fun. Three of these aren’t primates, but they fall under the care of our Primate Team here at the Zoo: the Hoffmann’s two-toed sloths. 

This species enjoys tropical climates, and recent temperatures are still not ideal for them to be out on exhibit just yet. So with warmer weather approaching, be sure to be on the lookout for our sloths Cocoa, Bonnie and Okra. You can find them housed with two of our golden lion tamarins across from the Canopy Climber in the KidZone!
Chrissy White
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, April 14
When it comes to playtime for Taz, our silverback gorilla in charge of our large family group, he usually only reserves his time for his 4-year-old son, Henry. However, just the other day he was observed chasing his 3-year-old and 1-year-old daughters, Merry and Anaka, in circles. Both girls were laughing it up and were having a great time. As soon as Taz realized he had an audience though, playtime was over. Obviously he felt he was too cool to be caught playing with the kids. It was nice to see him interacting with them though.
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates 


Thursday, April 9
It’s always fun to watch Pongo and his dad, Benny, playing together during the day. Pongo recently began to hang above Benny and will grab at his cheeks to try and instigate playtime. Most of the time Benny obliges, but every once in a while he lets Pongo know he has no interest. However, this usually doesn't discourage the little guy from continuing his pestering.  
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates



Thursday, March 26
Orangutan surrogate mom Madu has shown us just how tolerant of a mother she is!  The other day, Madu allowed Remy to use her as a step stool so he could get up to the top of the Learning Tree!
Laura Mayo
Assistant Curator of Primates 


(Photo by Laura Mayo)

Tuesday, March 24 
All of our primates are in a behavioral husbandry training program. This means that they are trained for behaviors that allow keepers and vet staff to get a closer look at them to help access any medical conditions that may arise. Many of our primates are trained to present any body part; they open their mouth so we can check their teeth, stand on a scale to get their weights, voluntary blood draws and ultrasounds.

The newest member of our training program is Bornean orangutan Pelari. Since Pelari is new to training, the first thing that has to occur is forming a bridge which is a clicker. Many people use clickers with their dogs at home, which is the same thing we use with our primates. Pelari needs to pair the sound of the clicker with a food reward. With some animals, this can happen pretty fast; others take a little longer.   
 
Hopefully Pelari picks up fast!  Stayed tuned for more training updates on him!
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates
 
Thursday, March 19
Kekla, the first gorilla born at Zoo Atlanta, turned 26 years old on March 15. Kekla’s name means “dawn” in Bawanese. Kekla is the son of Ozzie and Paki (deceased). Ozzie is the oldest living male gorilla in the world at 54 years. At 7 years of age, Kekla became part of the Zoo’s first bachelor group. He is now a member of a bachelor group with his half-brothers Stadi and Charlie. They can be seen in Gorilla Habitat One in The Ford African Rain Forest at Zoo Atlanta. Kekla has distinctive light brown eyes and has many human admirers who think he is the best-looking male gorilla ever! 
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper, Primates


Tuesday, March 17
One of the fun aspects of being a zookeeper is researching new enrichment items for the animals we care for. Recently, I saw an idea used at another zoo with gorillas and thought the orangutans would like it too. I took a sturdy boomer ball that had holes drilled in it and added some dry oatmeal inside it. Biji really seems to enjoy playing with and carrying balls around, so I thought I would give it to her first. At first, she thought it was an ordinary ball and then she discovered the surprise dry oatmeal inside!  She carried the ball with her for several hours, taking turns holding it above her head or tapping the ball on the floor or wall to get more oatmeal out. Because of static electricity, the dry oatmeal was clinging to the inside of the ball; therefore, it took her quite a while to get all the oatmeal out. It is always rewarding to observe the animals enjoying a new enrichment activity we designed for them, and Biji definitely seemed to enjoy her ball with the hidden surprise inside.
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates


Thursday, March 12 
I just got back this week from leading another unforgettably amazing trip to Rwanda to trek and see wild gorillas, followed by a safari in Tanzania.  
 
While in Rwanda I visited three gorilla groups: Hirwa, Kwitonda and Agashya. Each group was located in different types of vegetation, but all took us over six miles in and out of beautiful mountains.
 
Once you reach the gorillas, you leave your porters (they help you on your trek and carry your bag) behind and follow your guide to where the gorillas are located. When you encounter the gorillas, you are only allowed to spend one hour with them. The government limits the amount of time humans spend with the gorillas so that their wild lifestyle is not affected. They also limit visitors to eight per group. I know, you’re probably thinking, “One hour?!”  I’ve trekked to see gorillas 13 times now, and I can say that every time is the longest and yet the shortest hour of your life. You are immersed among the gorillas and feel like you are a member of their group. To be part of this group is magical, and words cannot describe the feeling you get when spending time with these majestic animals. To get a glimpse into their wild social life allows me to be a better keeper for the 22 gorillas I help care for here at Zoo Atlanta. One of our goals is to elicit animals’ natural behaviors, and observing those natural behaviors of wild gorillas has given me ideas on how to continue to encourage Zoo Atlanta’s gorillas’ natural behaviors.
 
The three groups I visited lived in completely different ecosystems among the mountains. The way they use vertical space, how they eat certain vegetation, how they obtain and react to red ants, all the way to social dynamics – all these things help me understand gorillas better.
 
One of my favorite memories was watching three females digging in the ground to get some tasty red ants. The effort they go through to obtain some protein is somewhat comical. We nicknamed it the “ant dance.” Even though they kept getting bitten, they kept going back for more, very persistently. We see the same persistence among our gorillas. The juveniles are so curious and playful. There is so much to learn about gorilla behavior.
 
I enjoyed every minute of my trip, and I look forward to going back in two years and sharing the experience with a new group.
Jodi Carrigan
Lead Keeper, Primates
 
Tuesday, March 10
Kazi is a 9-year-old female gorilla in our family group at Zoo Atlanta. She is always one of the most entertaining gorillas to watch because she often releases bursts of energy unexpectedly. She spins, leaps, climbs, and rolls, seemingly for no particular reason. She is also known for hanging by her feet from the ceiling inside, and she has now begun to pass this behavior down to the other juveniles in the family group!  It is quite impressive to watch a baby gorilla hang upside down from the ceiling while simultaneously wrestling with siblings. Sometimes, they just hang upside down and swing by themselves as if they are harnessing their inner bat. Kazi has added this behavior to the culture of their family, and I’m certainly glad she did because it makes watching them horse around all the more entertaining!
Bobby Fellows
Keeper I, Primates


Thursday, March 5
The primates have spent a lot of time indoors lately between the cold weather and the rain. The advantage of that for the keepers is that we get to see lots of different behaviors that we don’t always get to observe when the animals are outside all day. One of the best things we get to see are all of the play behaviors, especially in the family group. The other afternoon, Taz was in one area with all of the kids, and they were having so much fun! Taz spent part of the time just sitting in the middle of the room with all of the wrestling and chasing going on around him. Every so often he would join in and grab Henry for a wrestling match. Henry and Taz would roll around on the floor, laughing and tickling each other! The girls, Merry Leigh, Andi and Anaka, looked like they were thinking about joining in, but they decided that the play was a little too rough for them. A pretty fun way to spend the afternoon!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates


Tuesday, March 3
Each morning, I separate the drills in their indoor area to ensure that each monkey receives his or her fair share of breakfast. Recently, however, our male, Bobby, refused to budge. Instead, he was consumed with his own image, making faces in a mirror. 

Mirrors are one of several enrichments we provide for our monkeys. Depending on the animal, some recognize the reflection as themselves (called self-recognition), and others may see the image as a conspecific (another member of the same species). Animals known to be very intelligent, such as great apes, elephants and dolphins, indicate having self-recognition.
 
How do we know? One way of testing is to put a mark on the animal's face without his or her knowledge. When presented with a mirror, the animal may touch the mark on his or her face!
 
Regardless of what Bobby thought he saw, I used his interest in his own image to shift him. I just picked up the mirror, and Bobby trudged alongside it, repeatedly smiling and raising his eyebrows at the handsome drill.
Whitney Taylor
Keeper I, Primates 

(Photo by Whitney Taylor)
 
Thursday, February 26
Being a primate research intern is a really exciting job! Our work is both fun and helpful toward the well-being of primates at the Zoo and in the wild. Every day we study the gorillas and orangutans, focusing on their behavior and the way they think and learn. Humans fall under the same great ape classification as gorillas and orangutans, so learning about their behaviors and cognitive abilities can lead to a better understanding of how and why our own behaviors and ways of thinking and remembering information developed over time. By watching the gorillas for hours every day and recording what we see, we can also let the keepers know what is going on and how the needs of the animals may change over time, which helps improve the daily care of the animals.
 
You may see us on the roof of the gorilla building as we observe the behaviors of all 22 gorillas at Zoo Atlanta. We are particularly interested in social behaviors such as grooming, fighting, playing, following, and other types of interactions. It is really fun to see the infants imitating chest-beating and chasing behaviors when they want to play with one another! Clearly, collecting behavioral data on the gorillas has many benefits, and it’s a pretty cool job to observe gorillas all day! We also study cognition, or how the gorillas and orangutans are thinking, learning, and remembering information. Similar to how you may enjoy playing on your touch-screen phones or tablets, the gorillas and orangutans complete tasks on touch screen computers. Sometimes the orangutans are silly and do things like hang upside down while they work on the touch screens!

Another awesome aspect of our job is our involvement with The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, which has been studying and protecting wild gorillas in Rwanda for over 30 years! Gorillas are highly endangered, so we collaborate with the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda about their research so that we can aid in conservation efforts of wild gorillas too. If you want to help conserve wild apes, you can buy sustainable wood and palm oil products and recycle old cell phones in the Willie B. Gorilla Conservation Center. Hopefully we can save wild gorillas and orangutans from habitat loss and poaching!
Kim and Crystal
Primate Research Interns
 
Tuesday, February 24
If you come to the Zoo (on a day that the weather is 50 or above), come check out Orangutan Habitat One.  We recently just moved our Bornean orangutans Miri, Pelari and Satu from Habitat Three to Habitat One, which can be nicely viewed by the public. Pelari is getting bigger every day and is on the move! Miri is a little more laid-back than Sumatran orangutan Blaze is, and she allows Pelari to venture off on his own more frequently than Blaze did with Pongo. If Pelari isn’t off on his own, look for his brother Satu, and Pelari usually won’t be too far away. Satu and Pelari can be seen wrestling with each quite frequently.  
 
If you are lucky, you may also see Miri sharing some of her food with Pelari! This group definitely is a fun group to watch!
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates
 
Thursday, February 19
Creating and managing bachelor groups of gorillas can sometimes be very tricky. Adult male gorillas generally don’t need or want a lot of interaction with other adult males, but with proper management it is possible to group bachelors in a way that allows them to coexist peacefully and sometimes form strong bonds with the other members of their group.  
 
We have three bachelor groups at Zoo Atlanta, all at different stages of development. The oldest group ranges from 18 to 25 years old, and the three members are Kekla, Stadi and Charlie. They have been together for almost 10 years, and although they usually stay out of each other's way, we have still caught them play-wrestling a few times recently.
 
The middle group consists of two adult males, Willie B., Jr. (aka Kidogo) and Jasiri. They are both 16 years old, and they’ve been together for about seven years. During that time, they transferred to a different facility together and were there for two years until they came back to Zoo Atlanta last June. The unique experiences they’ve had together have led to a special relationship in which they actually enjoy being close to each other. They chase each other through the habitat like a game of tag and sometimes try to bury each other in hay when they’re inside. This is rare behavior for adult male gorillas, and it is extremely fun to witness!
 
The youngest bachelor group at the Zoo ranges from age 8 to age 12 and includes Kal, Gunther and Mbeli. When male gorillas are young, they typically want to play a lot more, and they enjoy social interaction with the other gorillas in their group. So, watching these guys play is like watching a group of kids at recess. They have limitless energy and are always finding goofy ways to interact with each other and their surroundings. Whether it’s somersaulting across the floor or swinging by their feet on the ceiling, the young bachelors are always a great source of entertainment. Because they are together at such a young age, these young male gorillas will probably remain friendly even as they transition into adulthood.
 
So, male gorillas of all ages can coexist happily in bachelor groups. It takes careful observation to determine the best way to form a bachelor group, and we continue to monitor their progress as they grow up to ensure that all of our male gorillas are happy and healthy.
Bobby Fellows
Keeper I, Primates

 
(Photo by Lori Kirkland)

 






















Tuesday, February 17
The primates can’t wait for warmer weather! There seems to be a lot of “cabin fever" going around with all of the time they’ve had to spend indoors lately. We look forward to warmer days soon, and we try to take advantage of the good weather breaks when we get them. 
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates


Thursday, February 12
Since the weather has not been the best the past few days, our orangutans have been spending most of their time inside with us. While they’re inside, they enjoy extra special activities to keep their minds sharp. The other day, Miri, Satu and Pelari used long sticks to take apart an enrichment device given to them on the outside of their habitat, where they could not directly come in contact with it. Slowly they unscrewed all the nuts off the bolts until they had pretty much taken the entire item apart without ever even having to touch it themselves. Too smart for their own good sometimes.
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates
 
Tuesday, February 10
Have you ever wondered how orangutans got their common name? In the Malay language, “orangutan hutan” means “person of the forest.” Next time you visit the primates at Zoo Atlanta, see if you can guess how some of the other species got their names. Do the Wolf’s guenons look like wolves? Actually, they are named in honor of their human discoverer. “Lemur” means “ghost” in Latin. The first people to hear their loud calls thought they were ghosts in the forest. And golden lion tamarins … well, that should be easy! 
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper, Primates

 
Thursday, February 5
Henry the gorilla is everyone’s favorite playmate! Andi, Anaka and Merry Leigh all love playing with their big brother. You can almost always find Henry in the middle of something fun. He also is good at carrying the little ones around. Henry is usually very gentle with his sisters, but every once in a while he can get rough. The girls are tough, though, and they’ll give it right back to him! 
 
The fun doesn’t stop with the kids; Taz likes to play with Henry as well. They don’t always play together out in their outdoor habitat, but in their indoor night areas, they love to wrestle, chase, and have tickle fights!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates

Tuesday, February 3 
One of the orangutans’ – and my – favorite enrichment items are heavy-duty paper lawn bags. The orangutans got these recently, and it is always fun and exciting to see how they manipulate a simple paper object. Some of them, like Benny, shred it immediately and place it on their heads or drape it over them. Chantek likes to open the bags so they are fully extended and stick his arm in it and wave his arm around. The most acrobatic of them all are Satu, Miri, Blaze and Remy, who like to stick the whole bag over their bodies and walk around with them, then out of nowhere drop down to the ground and start rolling in the bag. Sometimes Satu will even make small eyeholes in the bag so he can watch us as he rolls and walks around. This is just one of the simple, but totally enriching items the orangutans may receive during the week.
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates

Thursday, January 29
When the weather turns chilly and it becomes too cool for some of our primates to spend all day outside, keepers need to entertain the animals in our care. One way we can keep them busy is by painting with them. This week we were doing some painting with the golden lion tamarins and Geoffroy’s tamarins.

The way it works for them is this: We put blobs of paint on a canvas and tie a thin paint brush above the canvas. We skewer the paint brush with grapes and let them have at it. The golden lion tamarins were doing great; Tiete (our male in that group) was grabbing the grapes off and causing the brush to swipe across the paint. Spree, his grandmother, was a little hesitant, but just grabbed what she could when a grape had fallen free. 

As far as I know, the Geoffroy’s tamarins hadn’t ever painted. They rarely came up to the canvas, but since they were slightly curious and hanging around, Tiete had to wait until they were far enough away to get a grape. A couple of the Geoffroy’s tamarins did come up and touch the canvas, but for the most part, they just looked at it from a branch. The end product was hardly touched, but what few strokes that were made actually came out quite decent. The tamarins should totally be in an art show!
Michele Dave
Keeper II, Primates

Tuesday, January 27
Our 1-year-old gorilla, Andi, is a brave little girl! She frequently leaves her mother’s side to roam about the habitat on her own. Inevitably, she ends up roughhousing with some of the older kids who are much bigger than she is, but no matter how hard they play it doesn’t seem to faze her. She’s tough! 

And she’s fearless, too! Nowhere is this more evident than inside the gorilla night building. We have numerous toys, swings, fire hoses and other devices throughout their indoor areas, and she finds ways to have fun with all of them. She dangles upside down by her feet. She jumps from one swing to another.  She even leaps straight off the highest hammock into a pile of hay from more than six feet in the air! But my personal favorite move of hers is when she shimmies across a small ledge on the wall, “Mission Impossible” style, before leaping to a nearby hanging fire hose and somersaulting over it, only to land gracefully on the floor unscathed. I give it a perfect 10!
Bobby Fellows
Primate Keeper I

 

Tuesday, January 13 
It’s hard to believe it has been two years since Pongo was born; it seems like just yesterday that we were performing weekly ultrasounds on Blaze to monitor the pregnancy. Blaze was a great participant and would hold still for her special treat of blueberries – we reserved these only for ultrasound sessions. Her 8.5 month gestation seemed to take forever and fly by at the same time. 
 
Once Pongo was born through C-section, the introduction process began between Blaze and him. Blaze was recovering from her surgery and didn't seem to know how to care for an infant at first. He had daily visual visits with Blaze and eventually, spent the day in her indoor area with her. But since she still wasn't nursing him or caring for him completely, we would remove him at night and return him the next day. Those three months were filled with lots of training sessions with Blaze and Pongo, observations of their behavior, and meetings with staff to discuss progress and next steps. Our number one goal was for Blaze to take Pongo back and care for him completely (including nursing). So, it was a momentous day when a keeper observed nursing for the first time and we stopped taking Pongo back to the nursery at night. Since that day, Blaze has cared for him 24/7 and has been an excellent mother who has grown to enjoy her role. I will always remember those three months, and I treasure the fact that I got to be involved in working so hard to reunite mother and son.
 
It has also been great watching Pongo blossom over the last two years and reach so many developmental milestones. I love watching his fun-loving personality grow as he becomes more independent. At his first birthday party, Blaze held on to him more tightly, and he didn't get to explore as much on his own.  But this year, he was more comfortable to play on his own and got to enjoy his presents.
 
He can also turn anything into a game and loves interacting with paper, plastic enrichment toys and even branches. I really enjoy watching him interact with Blaze and Benny. He sleeps with Blaze every night, either on top of her in her nest (usually mimicking her sleeping position) or next to her in a mini-nest he made himself. If she has gone to bed first, she will gently tap the floor and squeak to him to tell him it is time for bed. His vocalizations are similar to hers, and he will squeak back as he crawls over. He also seems to enjoy wrestling with Benny. Benny has a vocalization he only uses when he plays with Pongo, and the two will laugh and play together a lot. Since orangutan fathers would never interact with their offspring in the wild, it’s so great to watch these two enjoy their interactions so much.
 
Pongo is also learning how to train, and a former keeper did a great job in teaching him some behaviors. He knows several body presentations (fingers, lips, shoulder) and is an eager student to learn more. He learns a lot from watching Blaze, and we suspect he will do well with training since Blaze is excellent at it and seems to really enjoy it. These behaviors will help us take great care of him as he gets older by being able to monitor him closely.
 
I thoroughly enjoy caring for all the animals in our department, but Pongo does have a special place, and I enjoy watching him grow and discover new things as he gets older.  
 
(Photo by Lynn Yakubinis) 
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates 

Tuesday, January 6
As 2014 comes to a close, I was looking back on what a remarkable year it was – so many highlights and so many incredible memories here in the Primate Department. What has made this year’s blog so great is each and every one of our followers. Thank you for wanting to get to know a little more about what we do and the animals we care for. One of our main initiatives that I would like to focus on in the next year is conservation. Conservation is something that all keepers are passionate about. When you come to visit or read our blogs, you make an emotional connection to our animals. Using that platform, we are able to capture your attention and educate you about the plight of their "cousins" in the wild. It's our hope that we can change your actions and behaviors that can positively impact their conservation in the wild. Recycle your cell phones to help save gorillas, and learn more about palm oil and the effect it has on orangutans next time you're at one of our keeper talks. If you're not able to visit in person, check out our website for more information. Let us all make conservation our New Year's resolution in 2015!
Jodi Carrigan
Lead Keeper, Primates 
 

 

 
Tuesday, December 23 
This past Sunday I came in to the Zoo to take photos. I haven’t been able to come to the Zoo over my weekend in a long time to get good shots, and since I had free time, I brought in my good camera
 
It was great to come in as a guest and watch the animals at times of the day I don’t usually get to. I got to watch Kibali, the infant Schmidt’s guenon, celebrate his first birthday and I got to watch Andi and Anaka, the infant gorillas, play and play and play!
 
Kibali was jumping and flying off branches playing with all his “presents” and decorations. Andi and Anaka were laying on the rocks on the far side of the exhibit laughing and wrestling with each other. I was able to get cute photos of both, so I hope you enjoy seeing them!
(Photos by Michele Dave)
Michele Dave
Primate Keeper II
 

Thursday, December 18 
One of the many fun enrichment items we let the orangutans interact with is an iPad. Everyone has their favorite apps: Some like the instruments, others like to look at animal photos that make sounds, or touch the fish in the koi pond. 
 
During a recent enrichment session, I discovered that Pelari really enjoyed playing with an app designed for cats that features a mouse that scurries around the screen. When the mouse is touched, it squeaks. Pelari spent a long time trying to grab the mouse and seemed to enjoy watching the mouse run around. Since he is still little, his arm fits through the enclosure mesh, so he can play with the iPad a lot easier than can the adults, who can only use their fingers. I am sure he will continue to enjoy his iPad enrichment sessions as he grows up, and it will be interesting to watch him discover other apps as well. 
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates 

Tuesday, December 16
If you come to the Zoo and are lucky enough to see one of the public fruit feedings for gorillas, you may notice that gorillas can catch! Their hand-eye coordination is very impressive, and they start learning to catch at a very young age. Henry, who is 4 years old, is beginning to get the hang of it by trapping the fruit just as it hits the ground in front of him. He’s about the same age as kids joining their first Little League baseball team!
 
Of course, some gorillas are better than others at catching. Taz, Henry’s father, is probably the most consistent, but he generally uses his body and arms to trap the fruit and keep it from touching the ground because he prefers not to eat off the dirt. But Charlie, our largest gorilla, is very skilled at catching with only his hands. I’ve even begun attempting to throw him two pieces of fruit at the same time! He still has some practicing to do...
 
But, if you are looking for a gorilla to make a one-handed, sideline catch with the game on the line, I’d have to recommend Sukari. She is not nearly as consistent as Taz or Charlie, but sometimes when I think I’ve completely overshot the mark on my throw, she whips her hand up lightning fast and snatches the fruit right out of mid-air before it gets past her. That’s talent you can’t teach! Her reflexes are clearly off the charts.  
Bobby Fellows
Keeper I, Primates 

Friday, December 12
Happy birthday to Macy B. the gorilla! Macy turns 9 today (December 12). She was born at Zoo Atlanta and is the daughter of Taz and Kudzoo. Macy B. was named after Zoo Atlanta supporter Macy’s department store and her grandfather Willie B. as she was his first grandchild.
 
Willie B. was the only gorilla at the former Atlanta Zoo from the 1960s until the Zoo became Zoo Atlanta and The Ford African Rain Forest opened in the late 1980s. Macy B. has lived in her family group since birth. The family group now has 11 gorillas ranging in age from 1 year old to 30 years.
 
Four gorillas have been born in this group since Macy B. was born. By living in such a large family group, she has learned how to care for an infant and should be an excellent mother someday. She will have to leave her family group and most likely Zoo Atlanta for this to happen. A number of female gorillas have left Zoo Atlanta to join other groups across the country, and all have become successful mothers. While it is always difficult to let one of your “children” leave, it is always best for them and for the gorilla population.
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, December 9
Gorillas have unique fingerprints, just like humans do. However, when they are studied in the wild, it’s easier to distinguish them by their noses. After all, how easy do you think it would be to fingerprint a gorilla? Gorilla noses are different in shape, and have nose patterns that are easy to recognize. Just like fingerprints, no two are the same.   
Jodi Carrigan
Lead Keeper, Primates 
 
Thursday, December 4 
Remy, our 4-year-old Sumatran orangutan, wound up in an unusual place the other day and was unable to get out of it on his own.
 
Remy lives with his surrogate mother Madu, and Bernas, a 12-year-old Sumatran orangutan. During p.m. feedings, we separate everyone for a short period so that Madu, who’s a well-known food hog, doesn't end up stealing from the other two. During this time, Remy decided to do some climbing around after finishing his food. Using a swinging fire hose toy, he managed to swing over to a ceiling hook that is used to hang other toys from. As the fire hose toy stopped swinging though, he soon realized he had no way to get down from the ceiling since the toy was now out of reach.  
 
Not to worry! Once we let Madu back in with him, she climbed up to within reach to give little Remy an escape route back down. The next day we went ahead and added another hanging toy in that spot so he wouldn't get stuck again, just in case he didn’t learn his lesson.  
Josh Meyerchick 
Keeper II, Primates 

Tuesday, December 2 
We never get tired of watching our baby apes play together. This afternoon I was watching our two youngest gorillas, Andi (1 year, 9 months) and Anaka (1 year, 3 months), playing together. It was probably one of the cutest things ever! They are both about the same size, but that didn’t stop Andi from trying really hard to get Anaka on her back to carry her. I think Andi tried every way she could think of to pick Anaka up, but it just didn’t happen. The two had a lot of fun wrestling and playing anyway!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates

Tuesday, November 25
It’s always fascinating to observe mother orangutans teaching their infants new life skills. A few days ago, Miri shifted from her indoor area to her outdoor habitat – on her own and without Pelari, who was still inside. But Miri stopped just a few feet away from the door and waited. Shortly afterwards, Pelari crawled across the floor and to the doorway. He seemed unsure about what to do next, so she walked over and picked him up and carried him the rest of the way outside. It appeared that she was teaching him to shift outside and was slowly showing him how to move through doorways. Orangutan mothers are such patient teachers!
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates 

Thursday, November 20
Here in the Primate Department, we have three very special non-primate residents. They are Hoffman’s two-toed sloths Cocoa (male), Okra Mae (female) and Bonnie (female). Sloths are native to South America and are not adapted for cold winters like we have here in Georgia. For this reason, they spend the winter indoors, off exhibit. But don’t worry; there are still ways to see them! From the picnic area in the KidZone (right next to the birthday party pavilion), there is a window to their indoor holding. If you’re lucky (i.e. if a sloth is in a good position) you can see one through the window. You can even see them when you’re not at the Zoo! The Sloth Cam on Animal Planet L!VE is a great place to check in to see how Cocoa, Okra and Bonnie are spending their time inside. Spoiler alert: They’re probably sleeping.
Sarah Holt
Seasonal Primate Keeper 
 
 
Tuesday, November 18
Baby Anaka is growing up so fast! And she’s starting to get much braver, too. Last week 
during the public feeding, she wandered very far away from her mom, Sukari, and joined the other juveniles to compete for her own share of fruit. Henry, Merry and Andi are still a little 
quicker than Anaka, so she didn’t really get a chance to grab much food. But she’s trying! And that’s a big step from sitting safely next to mom. Of course, when they came inside for the evening, she still cuddled up with Sukari in a nice pile of hay. She’s still most comfortable with mom!
Bobby Fellows
Keeper I, Primates
 
Thursday, November 13 
We had a few days in late October that were quite chilly. This means our monkeys and lemurs are huddling up, exposing their black bellies (if they have them), and following the sun’s rays. Just like we enjoy huddling next to the fireplace with some hot cocoa and marshmallows, our primates are enjoying cuddling by a heat lamp and nibbling warmed sweet potatoes. 
 
Our male drill, Bobby, usually spends most of his time in a specific tree, so much so that the keepers have deemed it “Bobby’s tree.” But the cooler temps have him following the sun, and he's found a new favorite spot high on the rocks where his females Inge and Drew can easily sit and groom him. Even if you dislike the cold, you've got to admit it brings everyone closer!
Whitney Taylor
Seasonal Keeper

Tuesday, November 11 
Alan the orangutan and I started our lives at Zoo Atlanta at the same time. The year 1989 was a great time to be a new keeper in the Primate Department, with the new and naturalistic habitats having just opened for the monkeys and the incredible areas for the gorillas and orangutans taking center stage.
I gravitated toward the orangutans, maybe not so much because I loved orangutans or that they were my favorite primate (I loved and still love all primates and animals), but because of the individuals themselves. There was Hati, who loved to do her “Hati dance” – a sort of duck walk with flapping arms, all the while vocalizing what we hoped were happy orangutan words! There was Sibu, a majestic, awesome orangutan mother. And who could forget Ayer, a shy male who preferred to look at you with slow, sideways glances.   
 
And then there was Alan: a handsome, sweet, fully cheek-padded male who would not hesitate to tell you about his greatness. He loved to incorporate his long call (an adult male vocalization) with a lot of swinging and swishing of his long dreads, mixed in with banging and making as much noise as possible. 
 
It was always fun to bring visitors in to see Alan. We would have to stop talking because there was no way to be heard over Alan’s grand entrance; it was better to just stand in awe and soak it in anyway.  Alan’s trademark behavior was a great starting point to pull visitors further into a conversation about orangutans, how awesome they were, and how we needed to save them in the wild.

Alan (and Biji, who is still with us) played an important role in sculpting modern-day zookeeping. Twenty-five years ago, zookeepers were hardworking animal lovers who began moving away from basic husbandry to more specialized ways of caring for animals. Alan was one of the first animals at Zoo Atlanta to take part in operant conditioning – we were able to use positive reinforcement training to teach him to voluntarily allow hand-injections. 

We also realized that Alan had a fondness for “bling” – the shinier, the better! I remember when we were trying to get Alan interested in learning a simple “target” behavior, we took a plastic jug and put shiny stickers all over it, hoping to get Alan’s attention long enough for a quick object touch. It worked a bit, but Alan only trained on his terms – and that was fine with us!   

Enrichment was emerging as an integral part of making lives better for zoo animals. Keepers began giving the orangutans items that might mimic what orangutans in the wild would be using. Wild orangutans use big leaves to shield themselves from rain and sun; maybe a bed sheet or burlap bag would do for our orangutans? Alan loved to drape a sheet over his head and just sit and watch the world go by.

Alan’s sweet face, calm demeanor, little squeaky vocalizations (private "conversations" between him and his keepers), his loud and raucous displays, and his love for the bling will be missed by all. It was easy to be pulled in by Alan’s magnetism. One minute he made you imagine what it might be like to see an incredible male orangutan swinging through the trees in a Sumatran rainforest. The next minute he would sit quietly and hang out with his keeper, forming a bond that would last forever – a bond that only a keeper understands.
Laura Mayo
Assistant Curator of Primates

 

























Thursday, November 6
Even after several years of working with orangutans, they still sometimes surprise me with how intelligent they are! Last week Bernas, one of our sub-adult Sumatran males, shifted onto exhibit with a plastic donut shaped toy from his holding. We do not let the orangutans take their larger toys onto exhibit for safety reasons. When they do occasionally shift with one onto exhibit, we generally have them throw it down into the moat, where we can retrieve it at the end of the day. Bernas, however, carried the toy all the way back to the shift door, waited patiently for me to open the door, and then placed the toy back inside his holding! He knew if he left the toy inside then he could play with it at the end of the day. What a smart ape!
Stacie Beckett 
Keeper II, Primates  

Tuesday, November 4
I'm in the doghouse with one of our golden lion tamarin groups. Since it is getting colder overnight, we needed to move Rio and Menina to an area with indoor heating. A couple nights ago, I went ahead and transferred them to their winter habitat, which has both indoor and outdoor areas.
 
When moving tamarins, we take advantage of the fact that they like to sleep in nest boxes (in the wild, they would find small crevices or holes in trees). Once they’re in their boxes, we close the door and can safely move them. Apparently they were not fans of being moved this time. When I went to check on them the next day, they were hiding inside their nestbox. In order to visually check on them, I opened up their door.
 
A few seconds after I opened the door, Rio popped his head out, looked at me, gave an alarm vocalization, and then proceeded to close the door back in my face. Looks like I have to spend some time becoming friends again.
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates

Thursday, October 30 
October is a very special month for birthdays in The Ford African Rain Forest. Gorilla Kuchi turned 30 years old on October 10, and her twins, Kali and Kazi, will be 9 years old on October 31. I remember when Kuchi arrived at Zoo Atlanta with her family group from the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University. She was only about 3 ½ years old and was still riding on her mother’s back. The primate staff was very excited to have our first family group of gorillas. Kuchi has always been a great mother and was the first gorilla mother in North America to raise twins without human intervention. Her daughter Kazi still lives in our family group. Her son Kali now lives in a bachelor group here at Zoo Atlanta with Mbeli and Gunther.
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, October 21
In the Primate Department one of our goals is to have all keepers cross-trained in all sections of the department. We have three main sections: gorillas, orangutans and small African primates (SAP), which also includes lemurs, tamarins and sloths. (Sloths aren’t primates, of course, but our sloths are cared for by our primate keepers.)
 
I’m trained in gorillas and orangutans. Lately I’ve gotten to spend more time than usual with the orangutans, and it’s always interesting! Orangutans are much more focused on the keepers and are always curious about what’s going on around them, whereas the gorillas are more concerned about what’s going on within their group... unless there’s food involved!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates

Thursday, October 16
Halloween is one of my favorite times of year! Boo at the Zoo will take place Saturdays and Sundays, October 18, 19, 25 and 26. It is always fun to see the kids dress up and trick-or-treat at the Zoo. This is also a great time to see the animals at the Zoo get some Halloween-related treats. Painting the pumpkins for the gorillas is one of the fun projects I enjoy the most. I love getting to be creative and showing what little artistic talent I believe I have to them. I like to think that they appreciate it on some level and that before devouring the pumpkins, they actually look at the picture and know I did it for them.
Michele Dave
Primate Keeper II

Tuesday, October 14 
Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Orangutan Species Survival Plan (SSP) Husbandry Workshop and Conservation Summit in Houston, Texas. Workshops are a great way for us keepers to learn all kinds of great information about enrichment, training and overall care for orangutans! It is also a great place to meet keepers from other zoos and share our ideas and knowledge. It’s great getting to spend a week learning and talking about nothing but orangutans! 

This year, there were also a lot of presentations related to the conservation of orangutans in the wild. They face a lot of threats, the largest being habitat destruction due to palm oil production. Without the rainforest, orangutans cannot survive. Palm oil is found in a lot of the foods we eat and the products we use every day, and you may not even realize it! Fortunately, many companies are now realizing this and are beginning to use sustainable palm oil, which means that it is harvested using less destructive practices. There is actually an app you can download which can help you choose the products made with sustainable palm oil! If we all show our support for sustainable palm oil, then we can help orangutans survive and thrive in the wild!
Stacie Beckett
Keeper II, Primates 

Thursday, October 9
The other day while I was giving one of our scheduled orangutan talks, Pongo decided to steal my thunder by climbing to the top of a platform and brachiating his way across the ropes about 15 feet off the ground. Brachiating is one of the ways orangutans move through the trees. Needless to say, visitors stopped listening to me and started taking pictures of him. Pongo – 1; Keeper – 0!
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates

Thursday, October 2
One of the enrichment opportunities we offer our orangutans during the day is called a forage table. It requires the orangutan to use a tool such as a stick to push food items to a hole in the middle of a table where he or she is then able to access that food item. The other day three of our Sumatran orangutans, Benny, Blaze and Pongo, were given a couple of these tables to work on.  Both Benny and Blaze received a few sticks to use to get to the food. Checking in on them later, I found Pongo cheating by reaching out with his skinny arms to take the food, and Blaze had stolen Benny's sticks to use as a nesting material. They never play by the rules.
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates

Tuesday, September 30
Gorillas commonly use sticks and other objects in their environment as tools. The other day I witnessed our four year old juvenile male, Henry, comically experimenting with the idea of tool use. There was a piece of apple left over from our midday fruit feeding and it had fallen about 8 inches from the hotwire around a tree. He could have easily grabbed the apple without touching the hotwire, but apparently he wanted to be cautious. So, because he was scared to grab it so close to the hotwire he attempted to use a stick to avoid getting shocked. However, he had not quite figured out the best technique to do so. He repeatedly poked the piece of apple with the stick accomplishing nothing but pushing it closer to the hotwire. Then, after a while he would throw the stick at the apple hoping it would magically move back to him. With his stick now too close to the hotwire to be easily grabbed, he proceeded to find another stick and start all over. This occurred 4 or 5 times until he finally gave up entirely, leaving behind the piece of apple which was now buried in a pile of sticks. He needs a lot of practice before he perfects the art of tool use, but I think he’ll figure it out in time!
Bobby Fellows
Keeper I Primates

Thursday, September 25
September 2nd, I, along with several amazing zoo volunteers/interns, helped give the lemur yard a makeover. We hung new ropes, buried a few new stumps, and created some climbing structures for the lemurs to sit on. When we let the lemurs out around noon to explore their new yard, they climbed on every new piece of furniture! It was great to see them be so active and curious about all the new structures we worked on. There are 2 new stumps near the Wild Encounter area to give the lemurs a place to sit while they eat their peppers. The yard looks a bit fuller when you look down from the viewing area. Hopefully when you visit, you too can see the lemurs running up new ropes and sitting in the center of the yard on their new branch structure!
Michele Dave 
Keeper II Primates

Thursday, September 19
In the Primate Department, we get weights on all the primates at least once a month in order to monitor their health. This usually involves them walking and sitting on a scale. This easy task is a little harder for the one species of non-primates in our department - the Hoffman's two toed sloth. They spend their lives hanging upside down by their claws or resting on a branch/shelf (with one claw still wrapped around a branch for support), so walking and sitting on a scale is practically impossible for them. We have tried several different methods, but the one that is most successful now is a sky kennel crate. It is the same type of plastic crate you can purchase for your dog. We have the crate secured on a shelf and the door is taken off. Once a sloth climbs in and gets comfortable inside, we can put the door on, place the entire crate on the scale, and get a weight and then let the sloth back out seconds later. The sloths enjoy sitting in the crate and don't seem to mind the door being put on. Actually, the only problem we have now is that Bonnie likes the crate so much that she sits in it all the time and won't let Cocoa or Okra sit inside.
Lynn Yakubinis
Senior Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, September 16
How many of you out there eat ice cream, or candy, or buy crackers while grocery shopping? How many of you wash your hair, use lotion, or wear makeup? Chances are you’ve been buying products that contain unsustainable palm oil. Palm oil is extracted from oil palm trees, and the planting of these trees on pleat land has led to major deforestation and habitat loss for many species, including orangutans. Bornean orangutans are endangered, and Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, and the deforestation from planting oil palm trees has also threatened not only our redheaded friends, but many other species who call the rainforest home. Not only has planting and cultivating these crops in this way lead to massive deforestation, but it’s also one of the leading causes of greenhouse gas emissions.

There is hope, though; not all palm oil is bad. You can buy products that contain sustainable palm oil, which is cultivated in a way to protect the rainforest and all the animals who live there. This also means that you the consumer can still buy all the products you love by simply switching brands that use sustainable palm oil. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has a great app that you can download to make shopping and finding these sustainable products easier. Aside from shopping smarter, you can also help promote and support organizations that aim to help spread knowledge about the palm oil crisis.

A perfect example was the 5k run held this past Saturday at the Zoo, hosted by Ape Conservation Effort (ACE). By spreading awareness and shopping smarter, maybe one day we’ll see animal populations, like orangutan populations, rise instead of drastically decreasing, but it all starts with you. So next time you’re at the grocery store, before you buy that box of cookies, check the label and be aware of where those ingredients came from.
Meghan Verble
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Thursday, September 11 
It’s amazing on how fast a year can fly by! Bornean orangutan Pelari will turn 1 on September 14! Over the past couple of weeks, Pelari has become more independent and active. Up until recently Pelari was readily seen hanging on either mom Miri or hanging from the mesh in holding. Just over the past couple of days Pelari has been observed crawling around by himself and has become a lot more playful. This is a huge step in an infant orangutan’s life! Pelari will now start to venture on his own, but will continue to stay close to Miri. Orangutans out in the wild are dependent on their mothers for seven to eight years, so Pelari still has a lot of learning left to do!
(Photo by Laura Mayo)

Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates
 

Wednesday, September 10
We currently have two golden lion tamarins participating in our free-range program. This is a unique opportunity to see Zoo animals with complete freedom. That’s right, they are able to leave their free-range “island” (an area of trees surrounded on all sides by the path), and a common question we get is, “Why don’t they?” It’s because golden lion tamarins are highly territorial animals. Spree (female, age 15) and Tiete (male, age 3) know that their home is inside the usual tamarin exhibit and holding building. The island to which they have access during the weekend is just an extension of their “territory.”

They have everything they need within this “territory” – food, water, shelter, and most importantly, each other! Golden lion tamarins are also highly social and typically live in family groups in the wild. This means a male and a female live together with their offspring. Spree and Tiete are somewhat unusual in that they are not a breeding pair, but are grandmother and grandson (although they don’t know that)! We know they share a bond when we see them resting together or grooming one another, or when we hear them long-calling to one another when they aren’t together. Stop by the golden lion tamarin habitat next weekend for a chance to see Spree and Tiete exploring their island. Behaviors to look out for are grooming, foraging, scent marking, and vocalizing.
Sarah Holt
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Thursday, September 4
Our youngest gorilla, Anaka, reached a major milestone for any infant on August 30. Anaka turned 1 year old! While she is still very dependent on her mother Sukari, she is now exploring her world on her own. Instead of Sukari carrying Anaka on her stomach, Anaka now rides on her mother's back. Sukari also allows the juvenile gorillas to carry Anaka. Merry Leigh likes to help "babysit" Anaka and can be seen carrying her around the habitat on her back just like the bigger girls! This teaches the juveniles females to care for their future babies. Of course, this is under the close watch of Sukari.  

Anaka is becoming a little more independent each day and also has fun playing with her older siblings. She is still too small to really play as roughly as Henry or Merry Leigh do, though. It is really cute to see Andi (who turned 1 in March) and Anaka play together because they are almost the same size. This play also teaches Anaka how to interact with other members of the group. If she becomes afraid or if another gorilla is too rough, all she needs to do is cry and Sukari will be right there. She is now eating solid foods like pieces of fruit, produce and a few pieces of chow. She will still nurse until she is about 3 or 4 years of age. Come see all of "the kids" play in Gorilla Habitat Three! 
Bernie Gregory, Lead Keeper of Primates,
and Kristina Krickbaum, Keeper II, Primates 

Tuesday, September 2
One of our orangutans, Bernas, had his 12th birthday over the summer! He is considered a sub-adult (or teenager in human terms) orangutan. This means that he has not yet developed the large cheek pads on either side of his face and that he still has some growing up to do size-wise. Adult male orangutans generally weigh between 200 to 250 pounds and have a unique vocalization called a long call. In the wild, this is how they communicate to other males and to announce their territory. You may have heard one of our other adult males long-calling while you were at the Zoo.

Bernas still has a few years before he will be considered fully mature; in fact, orangutans have quite a long life span. They can live into their 30s in the wild and into their 60s in zoos!
Stacie Beckett
Keeper II, Primates  

Thursday, August 28
For the past few weeks, I have been target-training the Geoffroy's tamarins. Using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement, the tamarins are learning that when they reach out and grab the yellow end of a dowel rod, it earns them something delicious such as a wax worm! Marco is my best student and seems to have the behavior down. 

These training sessions are available to watch live online on the Sloth Cam on Animal Planet L!VE, since the Geoffroy’s tamarins share a habitat with Cocoa, Bonnie and Okra the sloths. If you happen to view a session, you may hear a clicking sound. This sound is a tool I use to tell the tamarins they are doing a good job. 

Target training is a basic behavior that can be useful for several reasons. Right now, the targets can be used to move the tamarins to a specific location, including on top of a scale. Targets can also be used to shape other, more complex behaviors in the future. These training sessions are beneficial for animal husbandry and are also very enriching for both the monkeys and their keepers.
Whitney Taylor
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Tuesday, August 26
Gorillas have a very complex social structure in the wild, so we at Zoo Atlanta do our best to mimic that social organization. A typical family group of gorillas, called a troop, consists of one silverback, which is a term for an adult male gorilla, and two or more adult females plus their offspring. In our family group, Taz is the silverback, and he has six females with him: Kudzoo, Kuchi, Sukari, Lulu, Kazi and Macy. There are also four juveniles in the group: Henry, Merry Leigh, Andi and Anaka. That is a total of 11 gorillas. Taz has a big family!

Although the silverback of each family group is usually charged with protecting the whole family and deciding when to move to new foraging grounds, among other responsibilities, the females also fall into a hierarchy that determines their influence within the group. Often it is the oldest females in the group who have the most influence, and their offspring tend to follow their lead. This dynamic creates smaller clans within the family group that stick closer together during any times of stress or danger. In our family group at Zoo Atlanta, there are two main “clans” headed by the matriarchs, Kudzoo and Kuchi.  
 
Kudzoo is mother to Macy and Merry Leigh. That makes up the Kudzoo clan. Kuchi is mother to Lulu (Andi’s mother), Kazi and Henry. That makes up the Kuchi clan. Sukari is Kudzoo’s younger sister, so you might think that she would be a part of the Kudzoo clan, but she and her daughter Anaka often stay on their own to avoid conflicts with any of the other gorillas. As you can see, this gets complicated to manage!
Bobby Fellows
Keeper I, Primates 

Thursday, August 21
Sometimes it is incredible how the simplest things can enrich an animal for a long time – just like children playing with the cardboard box instead of the toy. Recently, we started giving Kibali, our youngest Schmidt’s guenon monkey, empty paper cups – both small and large sizes.  He entertains himself for a very long time with them – he puts them on his head, he holds them in his mouth and runs around, he jumps on them, he throws them and catches them, or runs after them. This seems to be one of his favorite enrichment activities. While his parents, Jill and Jasiri, will play with the more complex enrichment items (puzzle feeders, stuffed paper bags, etc.), Kibali will choose to play with the paper cups. 
Lynn Yakubinis
Keeper III, Primates 

Tuesday, August 19
In case you didn’t know- today is International Orangutan Day! August 19 is, and will be in the future, a day for the world to celebrate orangutans and learn more about them and the scary and real chance that their populations in the wild will dwindle to nothing in our lifetime unless action is taken now.  

The main destructive force behind the current state of wild orangutans is habitat destruction and total disregard for the lives of the orangutans living in the path of companies producing palm oil. Zoo Atlanta and ACE (Ape Conservation Effort) are teaming up to bring our Zoo Atlanta family up-to-the-minute information dealing with the palm oil crisis – and what we can all do to help – stay tuned! 
 
Orangutans are awesome animals: intelligent, patient, inquisitive, funny…the list goes on! It has been a privilege to have spent so many years in the lives of the orangutans here at Zoo Atlanta. Today, dye your hair red, enjoy an orange smoothie, hang upside down – whatever makes you think of orangutans – and do what you can to keep them safe in their wild homes!
Laura Mayo
Assistant Curator of Primates 

Wednesday, August 13
Taz the gorilla recently turned 25 years old! Taz was born at Zoo Atlanta in 1989, one year after The Ford African Rain Forest opened. Taz was the last offspring of Shamba. Shamba is still at Zoo Atlanta and is one of the oldest gorillas in the world at 55 years old!  

Taz was one of the original members of our first bachelor group with Kekla and Stadi. Taz left the bachelor group in 2004 to start his own family group. He became a first-time father in 2005 when the twins, Kali and Kazi, were born. His group now numbers 11 individuals, including son Henry and daughters Kazi, Macy, Merry, Andi and Anaka. His offspring range in age from almost 1 year old to 9 years. Taz has matured into a magnificent silverback and family leader.
Bernie Gregory
Primate Lead Keeper 

Thursday, August 7
One of the challenges of doing public feedings for our gorilla family group is making sure that everyone gets his or her fair share. The keeper must know the amounts of produce designated for each gorilla and try to deliver their rations in such a way that no gorilla gets jealous of another. This requires us to stay focused and be perceptive of the animals' body language in order to anticipate and prevent any aggression. Usually we are able to do this by making sure that every gorilla has something to eat at all times throughout the feeding. 

Another challenge for us keepers during the feedings is trying to get food to the baby gorillas. Their reactions are much slower, and the older gorillas are likely to grab any produce that falls near them. So sometimes we have to distract the adults and then scatter small bits of fruit all around the babies to allow them many opportunities before the adults return. Of course, no gorillas are going hungry at Zoo Atlanta. We make sure that the babies are well-fed even if they aren't able to get any produce during the public feedings. But in the interest of fairness, we still try to make sure they get a few pieces for the public to see. Plus, when baby Andi looks up at you like she’s doing in this photo, it makes you want to do everything you can to get her some fruit!
 
(Photo by Robert Fellows) 
Robert Fellows
Keeper I, Primates 

Tuesday, August 5
Folks are well aware of Pongo’s crazy hair, but he has some competition lately. Pelari, the youngest orangutan here at Zoo Atlanta, may just beat Pongo in the wild hair department. If you have ever observed the orangutans here at the Zoo, you’ll notice the difference in appearance between males and females. Males have cheek flanges that grow with testosterone levels, are larger in size, and have dreadlock hair. The females are slimmer, have different face shapes, and have finer, straight hair. These are some examples of sexual dimorphism, which is very common throughout the animal kingdom. 

As Pongo and Pelari grow, they will slowly start acquiring some of these typical male traits after maturing a ways down the road. For now, though, they will just have to keep outdoing each other with their crazy hairdos. It almost begs the question, “Who wore it best?”
(Photos by Max Block)
Meghan Verble 
Seasonal Keeper, Primates 

Wednesday, July 30
Gorilla moms are not known for sharing. I am not talking about between adults, but with their own kids. During the Habitat Three afternoon fruit feeding, keepers will cut the fruit big enough to throw to the adults and small enough for tiny hands to grab some. Unfortunately, Andi is not yet quick enough with the hand-eye coordination that her mom, Lulu, has achieved in her 14 years. We have started cutting up Lulu’s portion in tiny pieces so Andi has a chance at getting something. This past Monday, as I was throwing, even grandmother Kuchi stole from her own granddaughter! Luckily, Kuchi is not always motivated to go far when a piece of food is close by. So Kuchi ate her piece that fell close by, and Andi finally got to get her tomato! The crowds went wild! I am glad you all are rooting for Andi as much as we are!
Michele Dave 
Keeper II, Primates

Monday, July 28
When it’s hot outside, we try to come up with new enrichment ideas to help cool our animals off or to encourage them to drink more fluids. The heat can affect them just like it can with us!

Alan and Biji are the oldest orangutans that we house here at the Zoo. During hotter days they may get shifted inside earlier to cool down. One day I filled up paper cups with diluted juice and added grapes to them. Alan and Biji spent a while strategically using their fingers to scoop out the grapes without (or trying to at least) spilling any of the juice. Another item they received that day was frozen wet wash cloths. Alan was seen rubbing his hands with it and Biji was putting it on her face and her arms.  
 
They appeared to enjoy their enrichment that day and hopefully got cooled down in the process!
(Photo by Patti Frazier)
 
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates 

Wednesday, July 23
Are those baby monkeys? Although the monkeys are all quite small, our group of golden lion tamarins (GLTs) is comprised of juveniles and adults. Even then, it's difficult to tell the oldest from the youngsters! 

Several babies were born last year, and they could be seen riding on the backs of their mom and dad. But these primates become independent adults very quickly – at between 18 and 30 months of age. And believe it or not, there are much smaller primates out there! The mouse lemur is currently known to be the smallest, with the adults being less than four inches long.
 
Big or small, primates, including the endangered golden lion tamarins, all have important roles in ecology. 
Whitney Taylor
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Wednesday, July 16
One of my favorite parts of being a primate keeper is creating and providing enrichment for the animals in our care. Enrichment is any object or activity that promotes mental stimulation, physical activity and/or natural behaviors. Today I was able to observe Choomba and Shamba, our two geriatric female gorillas, using one of the enrichment devices in their indoor habitat. One side of the device had a reflective surface, just like a mirror. Throughout the morning, I observed both girls stop for a look at their reflections. Choomba only stayed a moment, looking closely into her own eyes, before moving on to lie down. Shamba seemed much more interested in herself, stopping to look at herself several times. The longest she stayed was right after she received her breakfast. She watched herself eat, and she even opened up her mouth to take a peek at her chewed-up chow!
Sarah Holt
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Monday, July 14
With the weather being so warm, some of our primates may have access to go inside to cool off. Generally our geriatric and infant primates have stricter temperature parameters since they can overheat or become dehydrated more easily. Those individuals that do stay outside have a variety of cooling mechanisms. All our habitats have shaded areas, fans and misters, and we even give out fruitsicle treats to help the animals cool off. Nothing like summer in Atlanta!
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates      

Wednesday, July 9
Pongo has been getting more and more comfortable with his dad Benny. The other day, Benny was hanging upside down on the cage mesh, and Pongo was hanging underneath him grabbing his cheek pad and they were both having a great time playing. Also, Pongo frequently gets in Benny's lap or jumps on his chest, and they wrestle and play and laugh together. It has been great to see them become more and more comfortable with each other and seek each other out for play sessions!
Lynn Yakubinis
Keeper III, Primates
    

Monday, July 7
Happy 8th birthday to Gunther the gorilla! He was born July 6, 2006 and his mother is Sukari. It’s hard to believe he is 8 years old already. Gunther is a grandson of the late Willie B. and is the big brother to Anaka, who is 11 months old. Gunther is in the younger bachelor group with his half-brother Kali and their older companion, Mbeli. 

The three boys spend a good portion of their day wrestling and chasing each other around Habitat Four. Gunther loves to slide or roll down the big hills and is lots of fun to watch! 
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates    

Wednesday, July 1
While we try and keep the outdoor habitats for our primates as natural as possible, a lot of fun items are given to the animals behind the scenes. Keepers have to ensure that everything that goes into an animal’s area is safe and can’t be broken easily (if items do break, they are removed immediately). Many items like paper and sheets can be used as material to make nests, which is something a few of our primate species would do every day in the wild. We also have items made to encourage the animals to use tools to retrieve food – another behavior seen in the wild.  But other items that go into animal areas are just plain fun and are as enriching for the animals as they are for the keepers watching! The ringtailed lemurs in the photo love to sleep together in their hanging dinosaur (I think it is a dinosaur) toy—it was exciting to finally get the photo!
(Photo by Laura Mayo)
Laura Mayo
Assistant Curator of Primates   

Monday, June 23
We recently had two visiting keepers working in our department for a few days. One keeper was from the Calgary Zoo in Canada, and the other was from the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Both attended the 2014 International Gorilla Workshop that was hosted by Zoo Atlanta. They were interested in learning different training and husbandry techniques. It was really interesting to work with keepers, not only from different facilities, but also from different countries. It was great to hear about how things are done in other places. We found lots of common ground, but we also got to share, as well as learn, new ideas and approaches for daily animal care. We really enjoyed sharing our great primate collection with other primate professionals!
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates  

Wednesday, June 18
Now that summer is here, be sure to stop by Orangutan Habitat Two. Pongo will be out with mom Blaze and dad Benny. He continues to become more independent every day, and it’s fun to watch him explore the yard and learn new things. Photo by Lynn Yakubinis.
Stacie Beckett
Keeper II, Primates 

Monday, June 9
This month, the Primate Department began with a fresh batch of new interns. I personally enjoy teaching interns because they get so much enjoyment out of the things I get to do every day. Sometimes I forget that not everyone gets to interact with primates!
 
As primate keepers, we have 10 different primate species in our care. Every intern is bound to find a favorite primate that may even guide the rest of their career. 
 
Kibali, the baby Schmidt's guenon, is often a favorite for obvious reasons. Who can resist a heart-shaped nose? But his energy and bravery are what I love most. Especially the time I caught him and Drew, an adult female drill, play-wrestling!
 
I always hope I'm able to teach our interns things they will remember forever, and these monkeys are determined to make some memorable moments as well.
Whitney Taylor
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Wednesday, June 4
With summer fast approaching, you might like to know how the keepers help keep the primates cool. All of the holding areas at the Zoo are climate-controlled. Indoor temperatures can be set for each species’ specific requirements. While the animals are in their outdoor habitats, the keepers have to be creative to keep the primates comfortable in the heat of the summer. All of our exhibits are shaded by the Zoo’s vast tree canopy. Most of our exhibits have large fans, many with misters. During the hottest days, the keepers give the primates ice treats. These frozen treats are made with a variety of juices and fruit. If the “feels like” temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the keepers give the primates access to their holding areas. Observation is one of our most important roles as keepers, especially during temperature extremes. 
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper of Primates 

Monday, May 26
One of the many joys of working with animals is the bonus of learning of a pregnancy and then witnessing a birth or coming upon a brand-new baby when checking on the animals first thing in the morning! From there, it is a whirlwind of daily checks, from making sure the new infant is okay to making sure the newborn is nursing and growing properly!   

It seems like just yesterday we were admiring the bond between infant orangutan infant Pelari and his awesome mother Miri. Now Pelari is climbing around on his own and taste-testing solid foods. Time does fly by!
(Photo by Laura Mayo)
Laura Mayo
Assistant Curator of Primates          

Wednesday, May 21
When shifting out the lemurs last week, Malaky, one of the black-and-white-ruffed lemurs, would not shift out right away. I went to put out their water bottles as she took her time to leave her holding room. As I was walking around the exhibit, I noticed Potter wandering all over exploring what I had just put out for them. He was dangling upside down and then climbing along the ropes. All of a sudden he went around a tree and I couldn’t see him. But then this was the photo I was able to get as he poked his head around the tree. Looks to me like he was playing hide-and-seek!
Michele Dave
Keeper II, Primates
 

Monday, May 12
Yesterday the Primate Department held our annual Missing Orangutan Mothers (M.O.M.) event as well as celebrated Mother’s Day and Madu the orangutan’s birthday!  For Madu’s 31st birthday, we decorated her yard with a huge “Happy Birthday” banner, paper chains and wrapped boxes stuffed with foods from her diet. Special thanks to our awesome interns for making such great enrichment items for the orangutans. 

Along with these items, Primate Keeper Josh Meyerchick, made one extra-large ice cake. This cake was multi-layered, and each layer had some special treats frozen in it. The cake was very enriching to Madu and two of her surrogate boys, Bernas and Remy. They spent nearly the entire day trying to break it apart one way or another. Madu was seen rubbing it, trying to make the ice melt faster to get to the special treats inside, while Bernas was seen kicking and punching at it. Remy stayed back and enjoyed getting any of the leftovers that spilled his way. 
 
All and all it was one awesome day for keepers, animals and guests!  
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates

Wednesday, May 7
With the recent yard switches, the orangutan groups are now in different indoor enclosures as well, which means they have new neighbors to watch. The other night, I saw that Pongo and Pelari had discovered each other. They were both staring at each other across our small keeper hallway. I wonder what they thought about each other and what life experiences and wisdom they were sharing with each other.
Lynn Yakubinis
Keeper III, Primates      

Monday, May 5
If you visit The Living Treehouse between 3 and 4 p.m. on any given day, you may find yourself wondering about the source of the deafening shrieks. 

This loud chorus is a call of the black-and-white-ruffed lemurs, a critically endangered species. Every day at that time, the keepers have these animals come inside for dinner. But why all the noise? These calls have several purposes: They communicate group movement, warn against predators, and locate group members. 
 
Our black-and-whites tend to do this every day at feeding time. It starts with a single call, and soon erupts with all five members rumbling. This can be a little frustrating for a keeper, because everything stops. Lemurs quit eating, shifting, or paying us any attention, just to join in. And forget trying to say something to another keeper or intern.  
 
So every day, we just wait for the noise to subside and carry about our duties, and laugh when a ring-tailed lemur tries to imitate the black-and-whites!
Whitney Taylor 
Seasonal Keeper, Primates

Wednesday, April 30
Every day we offer the orangutans multiple enrichment opportunities. Today we provided Benny, Blaze and Pongo with a dip well where they had to use tools such as sticks to access food items in cups on the outside of their habitats. Pongo decided that since his arms were skinny enough, he would cheat and just reach his arm out to grab a cup. Orangutans never play by the rules.
Josh Meyerchick
Keeper II, Primates

Wednesday, April 23 
As keepers, one of the highlights of our day can be enjoying some one-on-one time with the animals. The other night I got to enjoy some time watching one of our female gorillas, Sukari, with her infant, Anaka, who is nearly 8 months old. Anaka is in a very playful stage now, but for Sukari, this also means she can be kind of a pest! Sukari was just trying to have fun with some new enrichment and then eat her chow, but Anaka was climbing all over her, biting her and repeatedly bouncing on her mom's head. You could almost hear Sukari saying "Can I just have five minutes to myself?" Since Anaka is still so young, she is not yet able to spend a lot of time playing with the other young gorillas. It won't be long, though, before Sukari gives her a little more freedom to play and get all of her energy out before dinnertime! Photo by Jennifer Williams.
Kristina Krickbaum
Keeper II, Primates
 
Monday, April 21 
Everyone has his or her own way of saying “hello,” from the grumpy businessman who grunts a short greeting because his coffee hasn’t kicked in yet to the bubbly first-grade teacher who excitedly waves to each student as they enter her classroom. It is no different in the world of primates here at the Zoo. Each species and each individual of those species greets us zookeepers differently in the morning.
 
The golden lion tamarins, when they first see us, usually give a sharp, shrill call, and then after double-checking to ensure we are not a predator, come down to us and give a softer trill. They then stay pretty close and curious to see if we’ve brought them a morning snack. The Geoffroy’s tamarins are usually right near the door as soon as we walk into the building. They give these medium-pitched, birdlike calls that sound like “Wwhhaaattt,” as if asking if we have brought them any yummy snacks. The sloths are usually quiet, but occasionally the male, Cocoa, blows air and slowly peeks over the edge of his crate as if asking, “Hey! What’s for breakfast?”
 
In orangutans, as soon as they hear the key in the door, the mature males all start their notorious long calls, swooping and swinging on the various ropes in their areas. One male in particular, Alan, will come up next to the mesh and sit down and “talk” to the keeper present, informing him or her on how his night has gone and what he would like to do for the day.
 
In gorillas, there are happy grumbles to be heard all around as a keeper enters the door. The grumbles sound very close to the “grumbles” we give when we’ve taken a bite of something we really enjoy. Each gorilla, of course, grumbles differently. Kekla, a mature silverback, grumbles quietly as if it’s only just for the keeper who’s close by. Stadi, Kekla’s half-brother, grumbles so loudly that it can be heard in every corner of the gorilla building. And then there’s Shamba, one of my personal favorites; she is the oldest female gorilla here at Zoo Atlanta. She gives a short, staccato grumble as if to say, “Good morning, young whippersnapper! Where’s my breakfast?”
 
As keepers, one of our goals here at the Zoo is to ensure that the animals’ lives are enriched and fulfilled each day. It’s pretty cool that they do the same for us in their own special way.
Lori Kirkland
Seasonal Keeper, Primates   
 
Wednesday, April 16
The gorillas are going to kick off Easter weekend with their annual egg hunts, a favorite among visitors! This Saturday at 2 p.m., join the gorilla family group (led by Taz) as they hunt for their Jell-O eggs, sugar-free of course. The bachelor group will also participate in an egg hunt at 2:30 p.m., but our great group of enrichment volunteers has also prepared Easter baskets, papier mache eggs and more for them to enjoy! 
 
The gorillas really enjoy their enrichment and get so excited when we bring them inside and they see us setting up their exhibits with the fun items. Enrichment plays a vital role in how we care for the animals. The egg hunts are intended to stimulate interest and foraging behavior we would see in the wild. How many eggs do you think a gorilla can hold? Come out this Saturday, April 19, and see all of our primates and other Zoo animals enjoying their treats! 
Jodi Carrigan
Senior Keeper, Primates

Monday, April 14
We recently moved our female drill, Drew, over to live with Bobby and Inge, our older male and female drill group. Switching groups around requires a lot of planning. The keepers devised an introduction plan in order to plan out every situation and make sure all staff is on the right page. Once the plan was in place, we separated Drew from her original group and placed her in a mesh-to-mesh “howdy” introduction next to Bobby and Inge. This allows them to see and touch each other through the mesh to see how they might get along. There were many positive interactions between them, so keepers felt it was time to move forward and do one full introduction at a time. All interactions between the three drills were extremely positive, and they are all now together with the Schmidt’s guenons and colobus monkeys in Small African Primate Yard Two. You can now see Drew hanging around her new home. She has been enjoying digging holes all around the yard and sitting in the tree with Bobby.
Kelsey Miller
Keeper I, Primates 

Wednesday, April 9
It has been great observing Pongo learn everything he needs to know to be an adult orangutan. One of his recent accomplishments is learning how to build a nest on his own. He has been sitting in the middle of hay piles and sculpting the hay into small nests for himself. He carefully fluffs it up and moves it around himself in a circle. Last week, he even used a blanket to build a nest, which shows he has definitely been watching his mom, Blaze, build her nests, because one of her favorite nest-building materials is blankets.  
Lynn Yakubinis
Keeper III, Primates 

Monday, April 7
Willie B., Jr., will turn 16 years old tomorrow. Also known as Kidogo, he is the only male offspring of the late Willie B. Like his father, he is a very large and playful gorilla. Kidogo currently lives in a bachelor group with Jasiri at the Dewar Wildlife Trust. The Dewar Wildlife Trust is a 100-acre AZA-certified facility located in the north Georgia Mountains in the town of Morganton. To learn more about Zoo Atlanta’s partnership with the DWT, visit zooatlanta.org/dewar.
Bernie Gregory
Lead Keeper, Primates
 

Wednesday, April 2
If you are out in front of the orangutan exhibits, you might have noticed a change with who was in each of the yards. Yesterday was a busy day in the orangutan building. We moved all 13 orangutans around the building to give them a chance to go out in new yards.  This experience is enriching to not only them but to the keepers too. One of my favorite switches we did is moving Sumatran orangutans Alan and Biji to Habitat Three. Since Alan is such a large adult, he is easily seen sitting up high in a hammock or on top of the climber watching out over the other two yards. Biji is also usually seen up high sunning herself on the highest climber. Alan is known from his long calls and swinging from the high ropes in the exhibits.  

Madu, Remy and Bernas all have moved to Habitat One. Bernas likes to show off his brachiating skills on all the ropes! In Habitat Two, we will be rotating two groups of orangutans every other day. This would include Blaze, Pongo and Benny, and the other group will be Miri, Satu and Pelari. Guests will now have an opportunity to watch Pelari grow! Believe me, his hair is out of control too!
Patti Frazier
Keeper III, Primates 

Monday, March 31

Greetings from Brazil!
 
This week I am about two hours outside of Rio de Janeiro at the Rio de Janeiro Primate Center (CPRJ) in Brazil, a captive breeding center for primates. This facility is set in the mountains of the Atlantic Coastal Forest and houses a tremendous diversity of New World primates from the smallest, the pygmy marmosets, to the largest, the muriqui. And of course they have golden lion tamarins, the species I have been working with over the past decade. It’s a beautiful place in the center of one of Brazil’s protected areas.      
 
This week I will be teaching a course on animal care and management with some colleagues from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Staff from Brazilian zoos will be attending the course, and we will spend the week sharing our experiences in taking care of tamarins and marmosets (these are small monkeys native to Central and South America). These courses help to build capacity and create better connections with our international collaborators!    
 
After the course, I will be heading to the field to spend a few days with the Golden Lion Tamarin Association field teams and see some of the wild golden lion tamarins. This is one of the real joys of my job—getting the opportunity to work on a conservation program and see an endangered species living in the wild as a result of our conservation efforts. In the 1970s, only 200 golden lion tamarins were estimated in the wild. Today, as a result of a comprehensive conservation program, including reintroducing captive-born golden lion tamarins back to the wild, there are an estimated 1,700 individuals living in the wild. It’s always a privilege to be able to spend a little time in the forest with the tamarins.  Who knows, maybe I will see some of the descendants from those Atlanta-born tamarins that were reintroduced in 1996!   
 
Ate logo!
 
Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD
Curator of Primates