One of the biggest highlights of my zoo visit is always a stop to watch the Toronto Zoo’s charismatic troop of Western lowland gorillas. Gorillas hold a special place in my heart as it was my introduction to them through the dedicated work of Dian Fossey that first inspired me to want to not only work with animals but also do my part to save them from extinction. On this particular beautiful day the troop was enjoying their outdoor yard which is right beside the African Rainforest Pavilion. I can easily observe these animals for hours on end, and have been known to do just that, especially when they have a young one as they do now. Nassir (meaning protector) was born to Ngozi in September of 2009, and at the time of this particular visit he was almost two years old and was certainly showing off his strength and playfulness. Watching his development from my first sight of him at only a couple of weeks old being held tight to his mother’s chest to now almost two years later showing his independence, exploring out of moms reach, is remarkable. It was pure delight watching him spinning around, somersaulting and climbing higher and higher, just as playful as most toddlers. As Nassir and the teenagers played Josephine and Ngozi, the two adult females, sat by the fence and used long, thin sticks that had been shaved down to poke through the fence and prod at things on the other side of the fence. It was amazing to witness not one but two species of great ape utilizing tools in one day!
If the gorillas aren’t outside you can find them inside one of their two indoor exhibits within the African Rainforest Pavilion. One of which is the world’s largest indoor gorilla exhibit and is award-winning with its giant baobab tree standing center and surrounded by a simulated African forest clearing. The pavilion is home to various turtles, birds and meerkats that call Africa their home. As well as home to West African dwarf crocodiles, of which two females were successfully hatched at the zoo in 2004, the first birth of this species in Canada. A large part of the pavilion was overhauled over the couple of years and the newly renovated section now houses a baby veiled chameleon nursery where visitors can see behind the scenes where numerous enclosures are set up and house these fascinating creatures as well as incubators for the eggs of the soon to be tiny hatchlings. With a large casque (helmet), eyes that move independently of each other and can see in all directions and slow rocking movements with lightning fast tongue reflexes to catch their prey these interesting creatures seem more like something out of a comical cartoon than a real lush rainforest.
Also new to the zoo, with a spacious enclosure with baobab trees to climb, are ring tailed lemurs. These five new juveniles were all very active and climbing a window’s top ledge then in typical lemur fashion bouncing down to a large driftwood that was sitting on the floor of the enclosure then immediately leaping horizontally over to a large stump with ease, it was almost as if they were playing a game of chase. After spending many an hour watching ring tailed lemurs at the zoo I once worked at I must say my favourite posture of theirs is their sun worshipping pose, soaking up the morning heat they always reminded me of mini shaded Buddhist monks meditating.