|Maka My Love|
I've fallen head over heels IN LOVE with these Gorillas!!
I met them all this past December when my husband and I were in San Diego for a few months.
We were missing the nature of Hawaii, so we got zoo memberships with the idea that we'd get some exercise by walking various trails throughout the zoo. Turns out the only path we ever took was the one that lead us directly to the gorillas. We never imagined how life changing that path was going to be! Fortunately my husband loved the gorillas just as much as I did so we were in agreement with stopping off there, sometimes spending hours and even the entire day watching them, playing with them and just admiring and basking in their loving energy. After about a month we started noticing familiar faces of the other people that would frequently visit them. Some would come weekly, some daily, we named these people the Gorilla Groupies. I didn't see anyone there as often as we were though, some days we would visit them in the morning and go back to see Maka in the afternoon. I think I would have climbed in and lived there if I could have.
When I was young and first watched the National Geographic documentary on Jane Goodall the woman who studied chimpanzees in Tanzania, I told my mom that instead of children I wanted to have chimpanzees. As I got older, I discovered the work Dian Fossey was doing with gorillas, then I wanted to go to Africa and study the gorillas. You can check out that organization here: http://gorillafund.org/
The gorilla family is called a Troop, this particular troop we connected with is Paul Donn's Troop. Paul Donn is the adult male, which is called a Silverback since they get silver hair on their backs when they reach maturity. Paul Donn is a gentle giant and a sweet heart. All the gorillas in this troop were entertaining to watch and after a few weeks we realized they were also watching us because they started recognizing us. The first to recognize us was baby Frank, I guess I can't call him that for much longer, he's now two and a half years old but he's still a little guy. He's playful, fun and full of spunk and enthusiasm. He would come up to the glass window of their enclosure and pound on the window, twirl and tumble and delight everyone around.
|Frank The Tank|
Baby Frank was bottle fed by the zookeepers since his mom Azizi didn't choose to nurse him, so Frank has an affinity towards humans. His mom Azizi was the one I formed the biggest bond with. She was also hand reared by the zoo and knows some sign language and connects with people she likes. The first time I saw her kiss someone through the glass I could hardly believe my eyes! It was a lady that has been coming to see her for 14 years and has known her since she was a baby, this woman told me that Azizi also signs love to certain people by hugging her arms and patting herself. A few days later I was one of the lucky recipients of Azizi love and got my first kiss through the glass! It was an electric rush, she not only kissed me but she looked deeply into my eyes as if scanning my soul to see who I really was. It was a little intimidating to be so close to the glass, I felt vulnerable with my eyes looking into a large gorillas eyes but surrendered and thus our love affair began. One day she not only kissed me but offered me her leaves and tried to hand feed me them through the glass, after this all our days were planned around visiting the gorillas!
I got my kiss each day and sometimes more than one, and several times Azizi would sign love love to me and pat herself while looking at me. A truly amazing experience, priceless and so special!
After a few weeks we could identify each individual gorilla that at first looked like any other gorilla, we saw their unique traits and got to know each of their personalities. Soon they didn't look like gorillas but more like when you have a pet dog, cat or a horse, they were all someone special, they were friends!
Imani is the sister to Azizi and is the primary caretaker of baby Frank. She took on the mothering role when Azizi wasn't that interested.
|Imani with baby Frank|
Ndjia is the other female in this troop. She is Paul Donn's half sister and another surrogate mom to baby Frank. They are all tender loving teachers to little Frank, even his dad Paul Donn.
Maka is another Silverback from the other troop. The zoo has two separate troops that they let out into the yard/exhibit on rotating days. Maka was kicked out of his troop because he challenged his father the dominate Silverback. In the wild when Maka reached maturity, he would naturally go off and form his own troop of females and have his own offspring. For now Maka is alone in the yard each day, so he doesn't fight with any other adult male. He's in the yard from 3pm to closing, my husband and I went to see him daily and I fell completely and madly in love with this beautiful guy. He's not only handsome as ever but smart and flirtatious! He smirks and chuckles and plays with people, kicking and pounding on the glass when their backs are turned, loving the reaction he gets out of them.
I learned how gentle and loving gorillas really are, and also how playful and intelligent they are. Many humans have this idea that they are the most intelligent species. How does one compare or know how to measure the intelligence of another species? I really don't like seeing animals being kept captive in cages or in zoos, although I do appreciate all the dedication and hard work that goes into the conservation of helping them. And I'm grateful for the opportunity and incredible experience of getting to be so close to these beautiful animals for so long. I see the animals that are kept in zoos as the ambassadors to those in the wild. They help educate and show us all how special each and every creature is in it's own way, so humans can learn more respect and appreciation for other living creatures. They could have been killed a long time ago by poachers or anything really, so at least they have a safe and secure existence. They all seem to be happy and thriving in the zoo, the staff is like extended family with the animals, they've all bonded with each other. We've met so many wonderful people that work at the zoo, the sweet Gorilla and Orangutang keepers April and Fernando, smiling Marylin who cleans the glass and adores all the apes and beautiful Barbara who works in the business office, she would come to see the Gorillas everyday on her lunch break to get her kiss from Azizi and love from Imani. Everyone we met at the San Diego Zoo was so friendly and helpful. I 'm currently writing a book about Paul Donn's Troop and my experience with these sweet gorillas. I love the time we shared and the opportunity to be a part of all of their lives.
I've recently learned of an Ape Preserve that is being built in Hawaii on the neighbor island of Maui. It's started by The Gorilla Foundation, Dr.Penny Patterson the keeper of the famous Koko, the gorilla that signs more than a 1000 words. Koko has signed that she wants to live in a warmer climate (she currently lives in Northern California ) and also communicated that she wants to have a baby. Penny's goal is to complete this preserve and move Koko over to Maui, find her a mate and let her have a family. To find out more information about the Maui Preserve and/or to donate in any way, you can contact them at: http://www.koko.org/preserve/
My husband and I have the intention to help get the Preserve built and want to be involved in whatever way we can to help create this special place for gorillas. To find out more information about the Maui Preserve and/or to donate in any way, you can contact them at: http://www.koko.org/preserve/
Check out Gorillas On The Brink starring Natalie Portman, and see how you can help gorillas in the wild: