The Greatness of Great Apes

Before we entered in to the Great Ape House we were met by the sweetest, brightest eyes belonging to one of the zoo’s orangutans who was watching us all through a bubbled window, I couldn’t help but smile.  The first day we visited it was later in the day and by the time we arrived at the Great Ape House most of the orangutans seemed to be getting ready for bedtime, settling into their homemade nests of straw and blankets.  Two orangutans were even cuddling up beneath a blanket.

Kibibi - western lowland gorilla

The gorillas were also pretty calm and relaxed that first day.  Kibibi (Swahili meaning ‘little lady’) is the youngest in the zoos western lowland gorilla troop, born two years ago.  We sat watching the sweet youngster cuddle with her mother in a hammock.  Even when her mom went for a little walk around their enclosure Kibibi sat in the hammock peering out from over the edge, at ease alone yet still in sight of mom.  The following day we visited them it was early morning and they were much more active.  Two of the young teenage boys were playing and wrestling together.  One was even standing on his hind legs and in what appeared to be pure happiness was spinning around in circles and throwing straw up in the air.

Starting in the orangutan’s outdoor enclosure at the Great Ape House and ending in the outdoor yard of the Think Tank are tall, tower-like structures connected by cables called the O-Line.  The O-Line allows the orangutans access, at their own will, to the Think Tank.  The Think Tank is a facility, open to the public, where researchers can study the various aspects of animal thought and learning.  Within the Think Tank are several enclosures with various enrichment items for their inhabitants.  The day we visited one of the macaques was sitting on a matt like a toddler playing with some toys, looking out at us as if waiting for us to entertain him.  The Think Tank is a great way for zoo visitors to learn more about animal intelligence with a plethora of research material as well as various educational exhibits on animal cognition.  One interesting exhibit was a large display of animal brains; these models show the significant size difference of numerous animals from elephant to mouse or whale to ostrich.

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