Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Male gorilla showing off for new friends at Dallas Zoo

06:18 PM CDT on Tuesday, June 3, 2008
By CHRIS COATS/ Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

The senior zookeeper at the Dallas Zoo has noticed a big change in Patrick. The 18-year-old western lowland gorilla has been strutting his stuff.

"He's constantly banging his chest and standing tall showing how big he is," said the zookeeper, Keith Zdrojewski. "He's doing these power sprints back and forth in the gorilla building. He's lifting up heavy objects. He's putting on a display showing that he's a tough guy."
Patrick's show is for the newest additions to the Dallas Zoo – female gorillas Tufani and Makena. The plan is for Tufani and Makena to form a troop with 360-pound Patrick.

"Patrick stands where he can get the best view of them," said Tami Jochem, the zoo's senior mammal keeper. "Tufani is very interested in him. Makena is more interested in eating."

Tufani, 18, who weighs 199 pounds, came to Dallas' Jake L. Harmon Gorilla Conservation Research Center from the Pittsburgh Zoo. Makena is 9, weighs 122 pounds and lived at Disney's Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Fla.

While there are two older female gorillas and one older male in the North Habitat, only one silverback male – the hair on the back changes color with maturity – can be in a troop. Patrick has lived alone in the South Habitat for more than four years.

"Patrick is old enough that he should have his own troop," said Todd Bowsher, the zoo's mammal curator. "We've long awaited this moment."

For the past two weeks, Tufani and Makena have shared a living area separated from the others. But all can see one other.

The females have been rotated inside and outside to get used to their new environment. This week, the three gorillas will enter what zoo officials call a "howdy phase," where physical contact and eventual one-on-one interaction will occur.

"We can't wait to see Patrick with companions," said Alex Dean, a Dallas Zoo docent. "He's become a lazy teenager. These ladies will make him more active and be a leader."

Zoo officials are optimistic that the introductions will go smoothly. But there are no plans to further increase the population immediately – in part, due to a recommendation from the American Zoological Association that regulates breeding. Also, the females have not reached the optimal age for breeding, which is 20 to 30.
They'll still breed and have fun," Ms. Jochem said. "But the girls are on birth control."

The last new gorillas came to the Dallas Zoo in 1995. Patrick and Jabari were 5-year-olds who had been raised together in Toronto. In March 2004, Jabari escaped and injured three patrons before tactical officers shot and killed him. The exhibit was closed until May 2006.

"We completed a $2.5 million renovation," said Chuck Siegel, deputy director at the Dallas Zoo and Dallas Aquarium. "This troop is what we need to move on to the new habitat."

Misti Greenlee of San Angelo and her son, Jeffry Leary, 13, said they chose the Dallas Zoo over the one in Fort Worth on Monday because of the gorilla display.

"I like watching them in the habitats, and I've always wondered why they beat their chests like that," Jeffry said. "Now I know."