The famous western lowland gorillas, known as the ‘Taiping gorillas’, who were returned to Cameroon from South Africa a year ago continue to keep everyone at the Limbe Wildlife Centre extremely busy. The integration with the resident gorillas at the LWC did not go as well as was hoped and in recent months, whilst the resident gorillas have remained healthy, they have suffered repeated bouts of sickness. It was apparent that stress was a probable factor in their ill health and in order to relieve this stress it became clear that the gorillas needed their own space in which to live. However this posed us with a conundrum: with no land available in the grounds of the LWC to build on how were we going to create a new enclosure in which they could peacefully live? Additionally time was of the essence yet the building of a new enclosure is typically measured in years, not weeks, and with their deteriorating health we felt that we needed to make a change and soon. Fortunately we were just coming to the end of a three year construction project to build a new chimpanzee enclosure and so the decision was taken to move one whole group of chimpanzees into this new enclosure ahead of schedule. The plan being that the vacating chimpanzees would leave behind an old enclosure space which, with some rapid renovations, could be transformed into a dedicated gorilla enclosure.
Work began in October and in a matter of days the roof was rebuilt, walls knocked down, mesh panels welded, a pool built and new gorilla strength climbing structures erected. Transforming, what was an old chimpanzee enclosure, into a newly refurbished home for gorillas.
Once work was completed we planned to move the three Taiping gorillas plus another young male, called Arno, who had also had problems integrating into the LWC resident group. Additionally the infant Adjibolo, who had been fostered on to the female Taiping gorilla Abbey, would join the group. The only problem was how to get the gorillas in to their new home. Typically when moving large animals from one enclosure to another we have to anaesthetise them so that they can be carried whilst asleep. However this can be very stressful especially when the animals have been sick. Therefore we devised an audacious plan whereby the gorillas to be moved were encourage to ‘escape’ out of their enclosure and into their new home by means of a thick rope that was placed over the 4 metre high wall separating the two enclosures.
The first concern was how we could entice the gorillas to climb the new mystery rope: to encourage them we recruited the LWC’s Head Keeper, Jonathan Kang, who climbed the rope a few times in full view of all the gorillas keenly watching what was going on from the night house. We hoped that, having seen Jonathan disappear over the wall, they would follow him over curious to find out where he had gone.
The second problem was preventing the gorillas from simply climbing back in to the old enclosure from where they had come. To solve this we tied the far end of the rope to a fixed climbing structure in the new enclosure, leaving the near end unattached dangling over the wall in the old enclosure. Once in their new home, if the gorillas tried to climb back over the wall they would simply pull the unattached end of the rope on top of themselves.
The big day arrived, the rope had been placed, Jonathan had done his show and all that remained was to selectively let out from the night house only those gorillas that were to be transferred. The sliding doors were opened and as soon as the gorillas were let out they all tentatively approached the mystery rope. Like a bunch of school boys daring each other to see who was the bravest they tested the rope, climbing a few metres and then jumping back down. After a few attempts, however, the young male Arno finally reached the top.
Now sitting on the dividing wall he could see how the rope led into an interesting looking place filled with Aframomum melegueta plants strewn about enticingly. Gorillas love to eat this plant and so, perhaps buoyed by his success so far, Arno carried on down the rope and in to his new home. Encouraged by Arno the females, watching below, soon followed him over the wall. The plan had worked.
Within an hour all the gorillas except one, the nervous young male ‘Izan, had successfully transferred themselves by escaping in to their new home, saving themselves the stress of an anesthetic dart.
One week later I can report that all of the gorillas have settled into their new home and are now able to go outside every single day, as opposed to every other day which was the case in the old enclosure. We shall see in the coming months what impact having their own dedicated enclosure space, away from the attention of the other gorillas, will have on their long-term health. We now hope that they will settle in to their new home and that this will be the last move that these well travelled gorillas will need to make for quite a while.
The care of the all of the gorillas at the LWC is an ongoing concern for all at the project. Funding is always needed to pay for their food, medical and enclosure costs and any assistance with these continual costs will be greatly appreciated.
Thank you for your help.