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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.

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