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Zoo Observations

Dillon, Jason Professor Simi ANTA 102 15 PAR 2015 San Diego Zoo Observations It is impossible to go back to the past to observe exactly how different species have evolved and changed over the centuries. This is why it is important for us to observe and study these species now, in order to better understand the past and find the similarities, differences, and how each of these animals have adapted in their environments over time. To better understand ourselves, we must first understand the primates from which we have perhaps evolved from.

These primates share many similar heartsickness as humans do and have complex social Structures that closely relate to our own. Will be discussing two different primates of which I observed; the orangutan (Pong Pegasus and Pong Babble) and the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla). The first groups of primates I visited and observed were the orangutans, which translates to ‘man of the forest’ in the Malay language. There were two different sub species in the enclosed habitat, the Borne orangutan (Pong Pegasus) and the Sumatra orangutan (Pong Babble).

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The Borne orangutans varied in appearance from the Sumatra orangutans, with shorter hair on the beard, a much larger and broader face, and also seemed to have darker colored fur. There was one male and four visible females inside the habitat, along with a few smaller monkeys. The male was much larger than both of the female species in both size and weight. He was estimated to weigh about 260 pounds, while the females were estimated at just 1 30 pounds. He spent his entire time on the ground, walking around to the other females, giving each of them some sort of attention.

He walked round on his knuckles, with his fingers flat along the ground and not in a fist. There were no signs of dominance during the time of observation to either humans or other primates inside the habitat. The habitat in which they lived was filled with various rock structures; half caves that were made to give shade, four, large metal “trees” that spanned about an equal distance from one another across the entire habitat in which many large ropes and nets hung and spanned from them. There were multiple, large, bamboo poles lined up in a vertical line, with rope connecting each to the other.

These types of structures are fairly similar to what these species would have encountered in their native habitats. According to worldliest. Org, the normal habitats for these primates are “Lowland rainforest’s and tropical, swamp and mountain forests” (CITE) and “Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaved Forests” (CITE). Which made me wonder, why were they using metal ‘trees” instead Of natural trees like the other primates had in their artificial habitats? Their diets seemed to consist of palm fronds, grasses, and some type of leafy vegetable that the male was carrying around.

The World Wildlife Fund cites the orangutans typical natural diet as, “About 60% of the orangutan’s diet comes from fruit, with the rest comprising young leaves and shoots, insects, soil, tree bark, woody liana, and occasionally eggs and small vertebrates” (CITE). So the contrast in diet in captivity seems to be fairly minimal compared to what they would be accustomed to in the wild. The male took a large palm stock and poked inside of a make-shift termite mound, until he got some type of liquid on it and then licked off.

He repeated this three times until he was satisfied and put the frond down. He then walked up behind a female who was resting against the observation glass, examined her anus by smelling and picking at it, then walked off as if satisfied by its cleanliness. He spent most of his time with one specific female who was resting in the shade. As stated by a zoo staff member, that although arboreal, Borne male orangutans more often descend to the ground than the Sumatra orangutans do. This was apparent, as the male never climbed into one of the “trees” during my observation period.

One Of the Sumatra orangutan females had a 17 month Old baby and was eliding her while sitting atop of a metal “tree”. The baby was estimated to weigh about 15 pounds. The baby stuck very close to her mother while he practiced swinging on and climbing a small, nearby rope. At no time during my observations did ether the baby, or its mother come out of the “tree”. According to worldliest. Org, “The Sumatra orangutan is almost exclusively arboreal, living among the trees of tropical rainforest’s. Females virtually never travel on the ground and adult males do so rarely.

Sumatra orangutans are reported to have closer social ties than their Borne cousins” CITE). Atone point, the mother moved from her high perch and wanted to climb across a rope that was connecting her “tree” to another. The baby attempted to climb across, but only got about a quarter of the way across, before clinging to her mothers front side for a free ride. Once across, the baby played on a short rope while the mother climbed to the very top of the tallest “tree” to observe the new construction that was going on at the zoo.

About ten minutes later, she climbed down and crossed the same rope to the other side, leaving the baby behind, as if to say, “Do it yourself’. The baby then climbed across the rope and met her mother on the other side. The baby then started to climb a small rope to the top and slide down it to the bottom. She looked like she was really enjoying herself, perhaps as a victory celebration for climbing across the long rope all by herself. I was informed by a zoo staff volunteer, that this behavior was learned from another ape and was not taught from her mother.

I was also informed that the mothers stay with their young for up to eight years, which is longer than any other great ape. None of the orangutans seemed to pay any attention at all to their human onlookers, despite there being an enormous crowd observing them. The second species that observed for the day was the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla). There was one male and three visible females, one of which had a five month old newborn. Their normal social structure in the wild has them grouping together with around 4 to 8 members, smaller than any other groups of gorillas.

So their structure inside the artificial habitat was identical. Their artificial habitat consisted of sand patches, fallen trees, alma and other types of trees, large rock structures, and one very large, thick rope spanning from the top of a tree down to the ground attached to a fallen tree. According to World Wildlife, the gorilla’s natural habitat is “Lowland tropical forests of central Africa” (CITE). These rainforest’s are very thick and very hard for a human to transverse; making this type of gorilla very hard to study in the wild.

Their artificial habitat wasn’t even remotely similar to their natural habitat. These gorillas were smaller in size and weight than the other gorillas I observed during my time at the zoo. The male silverware was almost two times the size of the females that were available for observation. Their diet in captivity seemed to be bark, leafy and other types of vegetables, small amounts of fruit and fronds. Their staple foods in the wild, according to World Wildlife, are “pith, shoots and leaves.

Fruits are also an important component of western lowland gorillas’ diet and are consumed according to their seasonal availability” (CITE). Their diet in captivity seemed to match their natural habitat diet fairly well. According to a staff member, they were given ruts in different quantities over the year to simulate the drier months in the wild, where the gorillas’ had to eat less fruit and more bark and bugs. Two of the three females seemed to be in a constant state of foraging they very rarely stopped looking for food for the entire duration of my observation period.

Both male and females walked on their knuckles with semi-clenched fingers. The male silverware spent about thirty minutes laying in the shade with a single female, while the other two females looked for food. The male seemed to be very lazy, as he very rarely moved around. He seemed very content with sitting and laying down in the shade with one of the females. One of the three females had a five month old, baby male gorilla on her back while she walked back and forth, foraging for any kind of food that she could find.

She looked for food mostly in the grassy areas, but she also looked in rock crevices and any other place that food may have fallen to earlier in the day. At one point during my observation she eventually stopped foraging and walked to the highest point in the enclosure. She sat down, back towards all f the onlookers, and took the baby off of her back and began to nurse him for approximately four minutes. During the nursing, she ate what she had collected from her foraging and gently looked through her baby’s hair.

After she was done, she placed him back onto her back and went right back to foraging for more food. A lot of the viewers tried to make noises to attempt to get the mothers attention, but were firmly ignored. At the end of my observation time, all of the apes had gone behind a large rock structure and were unable to be seen. From my observations, the San Diego Zoo seemed to have done a pretty cent job at imitating natural habitats, social structures and diets that these primates would have normally had in the wild.

While not perfect, these endangered species are being kept safe from the dangers of poachers and look to be well taken care of. Thoroughly enjoyed my time observing and studying these primates and learned a lot about them. It was amazing to see how similar humans and apes really are when it came to their parental activities and how they taught their young. It’s not hard to see that humans evolved from primates, as we share so much in common. Far more than any other animal.


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