I find beauty in the great apes, in their thoughtful faces and in their great power. This is Anakka, who turns 25 in June. And he's a redhead, too! See the red hair? This magnificent silverback in his prime has three females in his social group. One is Toni, who is 38 years old and the youngest and only surviving first generation offspring of Colo, the famous elderly female gorilla I spoke about in the last post.
Toni has such a lovely face; she looks like her mother, Colo. Toni has given birth to seven babies. She was born in Columbus but spent about a dozen years at the Detroit Zoo. Zoo animals need to travel so that their precious genes can be spread around. When she came back to Columbus, her mother Colo barely acknowledged her--she clearly knew her, but because Toni had been taken away from Colo for hand-raising, the mother-daughter bond was not as strong as it might have been. However Toni's first baby, Jumoke, and Colo were very close. When Jumoke had her first gorilla child, great-grandma Colo practically raised that baby herself, as Jumoke was very young and didn't know what to do. Even though Colo was the brains behind the operation, Jumoke goes down as the first third-generation captive-bred gorilla to raise her own young.
When gorillas are kept in social groups, they teach each other, and the protocol of having zoo staff artificially raise their infants is falling by the wayside as we finally allow these animals to live as they are meant to--in closely bonded family groups, where culture and knowledge can be handed down from mother to daughter to great-granddaughter.
Sexy beast! Here's the back view of Anakka. I look at that musculature and wonder why a gentle vegetarian needs to be so very buff.
Here's a theory, and it's only the Science Chimp, ruminating. har har... If you're going to eat little else but raw stems and leaves, you need a capacious stomach, a rumen, almost, with which to digest such low-protein fare. So you have this huge belly, this vital digestive apparatus, to haul around, which is continually full of a great deal of vegetation. If you're going to sleep in trees so you don't get killed by a leopard in the night, you have to have some seriously massive muscles to pull yourself into the canopy to build your nest.
All this makes you mighty and ferocious-looking and impressive, even if you don't really need to be and rarely use it. A buff vegetarian. It was this fearsome appearance that gave rise to the old wives' tales about gorilla ferocity that in turn spawned movies like King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Researchers like Dian Fossey showed us gorillas as they really are: meek, retiring, slightly lazy, peaceable. Jane Goodall showed us chimpanzees as they really are, and their reality is a good bit scarier to me than that of gorillas--organized hunting expeditions to rob mother baboons of their babies, infanticide, even planned inter-troop warfare...behavior not seen in gorillas. Good thing the huge ape is the peaceable one.
I am indebted to Sue Allison Roberts, Columbus Zoo docent since 2004, for the family history here. Don't blame her for my harebrained theorizing. Sue told me so many tidbits about the Columbus gorillas, but my favorite one was this. A number of years ago, Dian Fossey came to the Columbus Zoo to give a lecture. Sue said she seemed ill at ease, nervous, awkward among the admiring crowds who attended--a portrait that is borne out by biographers. They closed off the gorilla exhibit and let Dian be there with the animals. She talked to them in the grunts and belches of their kind; she spent several hours observing and being observed by them. And when she came out, she said, and I paraphrase here: "I see a lot of gorillas as I go around and give lectures at zoos. And your gorillas aren't crazy. Good job."