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Dublin Zoo becomes home to Vana and Tebogo.
Friday, 07 October 2016
The western lowland gorilla troop received two very welcome additions this year when Dublin Zoo became home to Vana and Tebogo.
In April 2016, Dublin Zoo welcomed the arrival of two four-year-old western lowland gorillas. The half-siblings, female Vana and male Tebogo, were born in Wuppertal Zoo, Germany, in 2012. Both gorillas share the same father but they have different mothers.
Sadly, due to lack of parenting experience, both mothers rejected the gorillas as babies. As a result, they were taken to Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart, where they were hand-reared for four years at its specialist gorilla nursery, which is a safe haven for orphaned or rejected gorillas.
Nursery keeper Margot Federer and head ape keeper Bea Jarczewski made the 28-hour journey from Germany to Dublin with Vana and Tebogo to oversee the gorillas’ initial introduction to the Dublin troop. Having handreared the young gorillas for four years, the keepers' emotions were mixed.
According to Margot and Bea, their bond with the gorillas is really close. “We spent more time with the baby gorillas than our partners or friends! They are like babies for us on the one hand, but on the other, we know that they are gorillas and they need to be gorillas. So, it is very hard. We can’t feel too much emotion for them, but we need to give them just enough.”
PREPARATION AND REPUTATION – KEY TO INTRODUCTION PROCESS
Both Margot and Bea agreed that Dublin Zoo would be an excellent home for the gorillas. In fact, the Zoo was selected because of its reputation for raising gorillas with similar backgrounds. “We sent two other gorillas to Dublin Zoo previously – Kafi and Mayani. So, we know the troop and we know that the keepers in Dublin Zoo already have experience in the introduction of young gorillas to an existing troop,” said Margot. The process of introducing new gorillas to an established troop requires time and patience to ensure that all gorillas are accepting of each other.
Preparation for their move to Dublin Zoo commenced approximately six months in advance of the young gorillas’ departure from Germany. Human contact was reduced, their diet changed slightly and they were gently introduced to a select few of the female adult gorillas at Wilhelma.
"In the beginning, Vana and Tebogo were very nervous because they had only seen the adult gorillas from a distance,” explained Margot. “But, we chose female gorillas that we know are very gentle to their babies. They were able to see the other gorillas through a window, with minimal contact through a mesh partition. So, they spent their time observing and watching the others. The best age for introduction of gorillas
to a troop is from three to four years.
“At that age, they are old enough to be independent but, for the other gorillas, they are small enough that they are not too boisterous.” On arrival at Dublin Zoo, Vana and Tebogo were initially taken to their own small habitat. They were given plenty of time to explore the habitat, observe all the new sights and smell all the new scents. All the while, Margot and Bea were present to ensure that their special friends were happy in their new habitats.
“We will visit them next year. This year would be too soon for them. It is hard, but we see that they are very happy in Dublin Zoo and that is important, so we can go home happier!”