One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Primate Observation part II at NC Zoo

images (2)I spent this past weekend in North Carolina where Brian and I visited the NC Zoo so I could work on my Primate Observation Project for my Primatology class. This trip was far more successful than my trip to the Gulf Breeze Zoo in Pensacola. Besides the park-wide power outage, we were able to spend a couple of hours observing and recording the group of gorillas that were very active that morning.

This troop consisted of 6 individuals: 1 adult silverback male, 3 adult females, and 2 male infants. The infants belong to two of the females and  the third female is pregnant and due to give birth in the summer, the silverback is the father of all the infants. The infants are still very newmother n infant and the mothers are just starting to allow the infants to explore the enclosure. When they were not exploring, they were being carried on the mother’s back. However, they are a BIG distraction due to their cuteness and they took a lot of my attention away from the rest of the observation of the other individuals. Nonetheless, they were adorable to watch. Numerous times one of the infants would go into in the tall grass and all all you could see is the grass move where he was. The other mother-infant dyad were in the western end of the enclosure and out of sight for the majority of my observation, so I wasn’t able to watch them as closely as I got to with the other mother-infant dyad that stayed a majority of time in my line of sight and around the tall grass towards the middle of the enclosure. As the infants played in the grass, the mother wasn’t too far behind and always keeping a watchful eye. Mother was usually eating in order to provide breast milk for the infant. So as the mother foraged, the infants were put down to explore. At one point one other mothers did place her infant in front of her to groom for about a minute before the infant got distracted to go explore the tall grass once again.

DSC_0319As I had mentioned before, the male silverback is the father of all both male infants as well as the father of the pregnant third female. For the majority of the time that I spent observing, he spent his time either sitting in the southern corner where the glass observation was or laying down. When he was sitting there, he would be facing out into the enclosure watching the other individuals. At one time he did get up and walk around the entire perimeter always looking at one of the females, before he settled back into the corner. He slept for a good 10 minutes of my first observational session and again for 20 minutes into my second observational session. He either sat and ate or slept, but always facing out into the enclosure. He is the alpha male of this troop and the father of the infants. The keeper/trainer of the gorillas was out at the observation window and informed me that the male does often hold and play with the infants. But a majority of the time the infants stay with the mother and the father will occasionally interact with the infants. He is the ever watchful protector of this group.

The pregnant female was out of my sight most of the time at the other end of the enclosure where I could not see past the DSC_0431stone corner. She spent most of the time eating and foraging in the tall grass. Towards the end of my first session, she walked over and laid down in the opposing corner of the silverback, (the southern observational window) where she also preceded to sleep as well. She slept the rest of the my first session about 10 minutes and about 15 minutes into my second session. The rest of the second session she moved from that corner either just sitting and watching or moving toward the tall grass in the center of the enclosure to forage and eat. She is pregnant so she needs to eat as much as she can and rest. (In this picture you can see her pregnant belly).

Fun Fact: gestation period for a gorilla is about 8.5 months.

I have had some people ask me before when I originally posted about the primate DSC_0396project at the Gulf Breeze Zoo, what exactly what I was doing just watching the gorillas. But I was actually assigned to implore and observational method to record the gorillas’ behaviors as a group. This method that I was assigned was an instantaneous (scan) method in which I have to watch the behaviors of each individuals in time intervals of one minute for 30 minutes. Every time a minute was up, I would record a new set of behaviors as quickly as possible. What I have described before with the behaviors of the apes, are the interpretations of what I had observed. I feel like it was a lot like scanning as a lifeguard of a crowded pool, but with gorillas. The good thing was that they really just eat, sit, and rest. The infants were the only individuals that really moved around and were hyper. As a result, observation was not only easy but it was easier to see the whole group during the limited time intervals.

Overall, this trip was very successful as well as fun. Brian was able to help me with the timing intervals and taking pictures of the gorillas. When we were done with the observation project. We did explore the rest of the zoo. It is not the most impressive zoo, there is a lot of walking and hiking between the exhibits. But it was fun and the power did come on eventually, so we didn’t have to use the restrooms in the dark. We were there at mid-day (between 11-2pm) the time when it seemed to be nap time for a majority of the animals. So the animals as a whole were not very active. But I was satisfied and got to do my project.



Leave a comment »

Primate Observation at Gulf Breeze Zoo

DSCN4934Yesterday my undergrad assistant and myself adventured to the local Gulf Breeze zoo so I could do my primate observation on gorillas. Gulf Breeze Zoo is a small zoo compared to the ones that I have been used to going to such as the National Zoo in DC, Bronx, and Atlanta. It is a little sketchy but it seems to be a good little facility to families with young children because there are not an abundance of animals and some of the animals are able to be fed by visitors. One thing that caught myself and Kevin off guard were the various animals that you would normally see every day, were there such as the raccoon. And by the bear exhibit, there was a display on comparing the skulls of primates and humans, odd place to have a primate skull display.

Although the zoo does have gorillas, we found that it is impossible to see them from the observation deck that say you can observe them from there or you would have to take a train that doesn’t stop to see them. So regrettably I was not able to do my primate observation project. However we did visit the various other primates that were in the zoo as well as listening to visitors refer to the chimpanzees as monkeys.

DSCN4914 We were able to observe the chimpanzees from the observation deck. There was only two individuals. One of them sat by the water’s edge and was interacting with us by making noises and signing to us, including blowing kisses, peek-a-boo hands, and being hungry gestures. It was disappointing to not be able to view and observe the gorillas (which is my favorite primate).

As a cultural anthropologist, I have a tendency to watch the visitors interact with the primates. The most common thing I found was visitors mistakenly calling apes monkeys and monkeys apes, as well as trying to get their children to interact with the animals. Either by feeding, making noises, or by acting in away to attract the animal towards the child. Parents want their children to be aware of the animals, but most want to entertain their children with the presence of animals.

The day was actually really chilly and windy which would make it hard to do any recording of the observations that I would be doing. DSCN4929In the absence of the gorillas, we were able to visit and observe some of the other primates that were there. Many of which were in cages which made it easier to watch and see the animals. Unlike the chimpanzees and gorillas that were free roaming within their habitat enclosure.

Other primates that we were able to visit included lemurs, squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, gibbons, common marmoset, lion tamerion, and red tailed mustache guenon, and there were a few others that I can’t remember. It is one thing to learn in class about the various species but it is another to see the primates in person. If it wasn’t for this class, I wouldn’t have known the differences between most of the primates. Many of the primates were very active during the time that we were there, so it made observing them easier. The spider monkey that we did observe was watching a family have a snack and was sticking it’s hand out in hopes to get some food, as well as chattering to be heard.


In many of the enclosures there were not many individuals except for the squirrel monkeys that had about 12-15 individuals. Most only had 1-5 individuals. The squirrel monkeys were very active in chasing, playing, and eating during time of our observation.

Overall, the day was fun observing and visiting the various animals at this zoo. It was disappointing to not be able to observe the gorillas which was the goal of the trip. But I think we got some good information, practicing our observation skills, and testing our knowledge of primates from what we have learned in class.

I will have to figure out an alternative to observe the gorillas, perhaps going to another zoo where it won’t be an obstacle to visit and observe the gorillas.


Leave a comment »