Research Paper: Zoo: National Zoo Date

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¶ … Zoo: National Zoo

Date of observation: November 30, 2012

Time observation began: 10:17a.m. Time observation ended: 12:35 P.M.

Common name of primate: Western Lowland Gorilla

Scientific name of primate: Gorilla gorilla

Suborder: Haplorrhini

Infraorder: Simiiformes

Superfamily: Hominoids

Family: Hominidae

Subfamily: Homininae

Genus: Gorilla

Species: gorilla

Subspecies: gorilla

Description of enclosure, setting, and weather:

The enclosure for the gorillas is called the Great Ape House and it houses both gorillas and orangutans. They have an inside habitat as well as an outside habitat. The inside habitat is very stark in appearance. It has what appears to be a concrete floor, visible cages along the back wall of the exhibit, and what looks like very large tree limbs used to create a play structure. The outside is fashioned much like a large backyard; it has what appears to be a wooden fence like one would see in the back of a suburban back yard. The exhibit is very large.

The National Zoo is very large with room for expansion. There seems to be construction going on all around the zoo, so there is a lot of background noise. The National Zoo is in the middle of the city, but it is located away from the National Mall. The weather was cool; it probably began in the upper 40s and then went to the mid-50s. It was relatively humid and it seemed as if it might begin to sprinkle, but I did not experience any rain while I was there.

What kind of environment does this primate live in the wild? Is the enclosure a reasonable substitute? Why?

It is difficult to say with certainty what type of environment this primate enjoys in the wild because there is significant within-species habitation variation (National Primate Research Center). However, generally Western gorillas will live in lowland, swamp and montane forests (National Primate Research Center). In the wild, they experience a single rainy season and a single dry season each year. Therefore, the habitat provided at the National Zoo is not the same as their natural environment. However, "Multiple factors affecting the quality of the space likely have significant influences on how gorillas perceive the quantity of space. Gorillas should be housed in large, complex, environmentally enriched enclosures. Outdoor access should be provided to all gorillas, whether on exhibit or off exhibit" (Gorilla SSP). The National Zoo appears to meet those qualifications.

Size of the group (that you actually observed, not just as listed on zoo information):

Total number of individuals you actually observed: 5

Adult females: 1 Adult males: 1 Adults of undetermined sex: 0

Juvenile females:1 or 0 Juvenile males:2 Juveniles of undetermined sex: 0

Infants: 1 or 0. There was a young gorilla present, which I know is a female from the zoo information. She was born in January 2009, so she is more like a toddler than an infant.

Describe any observable subgroups (mothers with infants, females separate from males, etc.): The mother and the toddler-aged child formed somewhat of a subgroup, though the mother seemed to have maternal relationships with all of the animals.

What size and composition of group does this primate live in the wild? Is the zoo group comparable? Explain. The size and composition of this primate group is partially comparable to the size and composition of the primate group in the wild. In the wild, these gorillas live in small groups composed of a single silverback male, a small 3 or 4 member harem of females and the offspring of those unions (Fay, p.206). This group did not have the harem structure, but it did contain only a single dominant silverback male and several offspring of a mother gorilla.

If the zoo group is different from a typical wild group, in what ways might the differences affect their behavior? The primary way that the differences might affect their behavior is that, in the wild, the bonds in the group are primarily between the females and the silverback gorilla. The females do not form as strong of bonds with the other females in their groups, which actually differentiates them from many other primates. Because there is not a large number of breeding females in this group, the mother figure (who also played a maternal role to the silverback in the group) may have a different role than the one she would play in the wild.

Comments, problems in making observations, etc.: It was difficult to make observations about the gorillas because the people at the zoo tended to be disruptive. The children were generally interested in the animals, but some of the adults made faces at the animals and seemed to interact with them in a manner best described as disrespectful. Therefore, it almost seemed as if the animals were disdainful of many of the people watching them. I do not feel it gave any real insight into their behavior in the wild.

Physical characteristics:

Approximate body size (estimate, describe, or compare to familiar animals): The gorillas really did not seem much bigger than human beings. This makes sense, as gorillas range in height from 4 to 6 feet and weigh between 150 and 160 pounds; this places them in the range of human size. They did, however, seem far more muscular than human beings, which makes sense. Even a six foot tall human would be obese at 400 pounds, while the gorillas did not seem to have any excess weight.

Which are longer, the forelimbs or the hindlimbs? The forelimbs are longer, but the difference in length between the forelimb and hindlimb was not as dramatic as I expected; they actually seemed to be approximately the same length when the animals were standing; it was only when they were on all fours that the forelimbs seemed much longer.

Tail? No. Prehensile tail? No.

Describe how the tail (if present) was used while you were observing: N/A

Can you tell the sexes apart? How? What differences (sexual dimorphism) can you actually observe? In this case, I could tell the sexes apart from several different clues. First, the adult female that was present had very noticeable breasts. The silverback male was much more massive than the adult female gorilla. The silverback male also had a sagittal crest which was larger than the female's (Primate Info Net). I did not observe any genitalia on the gorillas; they did not really move in that manner, but it seems like gorilla anatomy suggests that one would see a penis on male gorillas, and be able to differentiate sex in that way.

Canines observable? Yes

Size of canines relative to other teeth: Male: About 3 times as long Female: About the same

Describe the circumstances in which you could see the canines (if you could), including the age and sex of the individual, if you could tell: The only gorilla whose canines I observed was the silverback male; from observation I could not tell his age, simply that he was an adult gorilla. The juvenile gorilla female kept playing near him and fell off of a play structure near him, and the silverback showed his canine teeth to him. It seemed like a warning gesture.

Other notable or interesting physical features observed: For their massive size, they seemed very peaceful and somewhat slow. However, they moved with surprising speed.

Any notable or interesting physical features that you read about but could not observe; why not?: I noticed a difference in the size of the sagittal crest of the silverback gorilla and the other gorillas, but did not notice this difference between the juvenile males and the female.

Motor behavior:

Describe the primates' locomotion, as you observed it:

Things to consider: context of locomotion (on the ground and/or climbing and/or walking on branches…); use of limbs (quadrupedal, quadrumanual, bipedal, vertical clinging and leaping, brachiation…); use of forelimbs vs. hindlimbs; position and use of hands and feet (grasping, sole/palm down, edge of foot down, leaning on knuckles…). You may see several forms of locomotion, perhaps in different contexts (some in branches, others on the ground, etc.); please describe all of them.

They spent much of their time sitting. The juvenile female gorillas played on the play structure inside, and also played on a similar structure outside. She seemed to do the most brachiating behavior; in fact, I do not recall seeing the other animals brachiate. This is not surprising because, "Gorillas can climb trees, but are usually found on the ground" (National Geographic).

She also seemed to engage in leaping. The silverback moved on all fours in a manner that seemed quadrupedal rather than quadrumanual; he seemed to lean on his knuckles. Mainly, the silverback male seemed to squat. The adult female was bipedal and climbed and brachiated at one point in time in pursuit of the juvenile; I would call her behavior quadrumanual because her feet seemed to act as hands as well, and seemed to be involved in grabbing as she climbed. The two younger male gorillas moved on all fours… [END OF PREVIEW]

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