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Chambers at Large in Dublin Zoo (3)

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

In order to present animals in the most natural way possible, respecting their dignity and to show their natural behaviour, Dublin Zoo designs the planting very carefully to create habitats that reflect those in the wild. One of the most fascinating places where visitors have to stand and look carefully into the foliage is the home of the gorilla.

Dublin Zoo is home to a number of species of primates, but the gorilla is one of my favourites. It is an animal who requires huge quantities of food and spends more than half the day feeding. Unfortunately there are only about 100,000 western lowland gorillas left. By 2050 there may be less than 20,000 due to hunting and Ebola.

Unlike my good self, Western lowland gorillas are picky eaters, selecting the fresh leaves, seeds, stems and insects they like and leaving the rest. They doze in the midday heat, digesting their morning meal, then forage again in the afternoon. The keepers at the zoo ensure the gorillas have to forage for their food, just as they would in the wild, and they have to learn what they can and can’t eat as some plants in their habitat have bitter chemicals as a defence against insects.

The zoo supports the Mbeli Bai Study in the Nouabale-Ndoki National Park, in the northern Congo. This park is a rainforest wilderness protected from development and free from poachers. The aim of the study is to learn about the gorillas and how to protect them.

Like teenagers, gorillas communicate with grunts, grumbles, whines, hoots and chuckles. When they are excited or threatened they beat their chest, scream and throw things. A stare is a threat and they rarely look at each other directly, preferring a sideways glance. Gorillas are excellent problem solvers, unlike some teenagers who merely cause problems, yet have been known to use and make tools, and learn human sign language.

There are a number of other primates who I love to watch as they do have such an affinity to human behaviour. Sadly, the Sulawesi Crested Macaque is critically endangered, their numbers having dropped 80% since 197O. This reduction is due to mining, deforestation and being hunted for the food and pet trade. Dublin Zoo is part of the European zoo breeding programme and has funded a pilot study of these animals on Bacan Island, Indonesia.

White-chested mangabeys are among the most endangered monkeys on Earth. Logging is destroying their forest habitat and they are hunted for bush meat. They live in small forest pockets in Ghana and the Ivory Coast and hunt amongst the trees and on the ground for leaves, fruits, small insects, fungi and grubs. They can store food in cheek pouches like squirrels, keeping their hands free to continue foraging. Dublin Zoo works with other European zoos and conservations organisations to combat their extinction and I really wish them well in their endeavours.

The white faced saki was quite fascinated by my presence making me wonder who was actually studying whom! They are normally quite shy, but can show a real aggression to protect their territory, arching their back, shaking their hair and trees branches in the forests of Brazil and Venezuela.

When I was a child and visited London Zoo one of the main events of the day was the chimpanzees’ tea party. In the afternoon at around 3pm chimps were dressed up like children and were forced into showing visitors how they could pour tea, eat cucumber sandwiches and emulate humans in this ritual, which often ended up in farcical mayhem.

Thankfully this bizarre charade is no longer tolerated and the chimpanzees live on an island in Dublin Zoo. A few years back I overheard a student ask a keeper: ‘Does the water keep the chimps in?’

The keeper replied, ‘No, it keeps you out!’

After the gorillas I suppose the orangutan is my next favourite monkey and Dublin Zoo has successfully bread the Bornean Orangutan and given financial support to a foundation which helps rescue and reintroduce them back into the wild. Not named after them being somewhat orange, the name actually means ‘person of the forest’.

Unfortunately, their population has decreased by 50% over the past 60 years due to deforestation, hunting, capture for the pet trade and wild fires. They are the largest tree-dwelling mammal and even the largest of the males rarely come down from the trees. The fellow sitting beside the glass seemed very interested in the humans peering in and, like the saki, I wondered who was really studying whom!

I recently read a very grim prediction for the future which sent chills down my spine. The planet on which we live will soon only be populated by insects and humans, the former causing disease and infestation on the latter. I pray this is the grimmest of predictions, but it has given me the impetuous to continue to support the great work many zoos are doing around the world in order to conserve the wonderful variety of animals that currently grace this planet and whom we should all cherish and protect.

There are other animals at Dublin Zoo I haven’t mentioned in my blogs, but I will be returning later in the year and I look forward to learning more about the fascinating work done. For now, I wish all who work there a belated but sincere Happy New Year and good wishes in their endeavours.


Catch up with my other blogs of Dublin Zoo via these links:

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If I ever return to Dublin I hope we can visit the zoo together.

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