It wasn’t love at first sight for Dara and Schroeder, but Como Zoo’s family troop of gorillas are definitely growing on each other
Baby Arlene, the western lowland gorilla, will celebrate her first birthday on February 22—a major milestone for Como Zoo’s family troop that zookeepers weren’t sure would ever come.
“We actually had no idea if Arlene’s parents Dara and Schroeder would even get along,” says Como Zoo primate keeper Geoff Jungheim.
Not only was Schroeder a life-long bachelor unaccustomed to animal kingdom courtship, Dara didn’t show nearly as much interest in the strapping 500-pound silverback as females Nne and Alice did.
“Dara definitely played hard to get,” Jungheim says, but as Schroeder gradually gave up chasing her, Dara began edging a little closer. “Maybe she thought he was losing interest.”
Did You Know?
- In 2000, Como Friends provided the funding for Como Zoo to implement a progressive animal training program that uses positive reinforcement to build trust and provide better veterinary care.
- Visitors can see this training program in action at public training sessions held in Gorilla Forest every day at 2 p.m.
- In 2015, a total of 40,148 Como Zoo visitors got closer to our gorillas by learning what keepers do every day to keep Como’s great apes healthy and curious.
While that romantic strategy may be very familiar to most higher primates, Como Zoo’s keepers caution visitors against anthropomorphizing the elements of animal attraction too much. “It makes a good picture when you see the mother and father huddled on the floor with the baby toddling around. It’s easy to make that connection to your own family and think ‘That’s just what we do at home.’ But while there are definite bonds between Dara, Schroeder and Arlene, much of that is based on instinct, and the roles they play within the gorilla group.”
For instance, not long after Arlene’s arrival, Dara developed mastitis, a breast infection that required keepers to briefly separate the troop so they could rehydrate baby Arlene and provide antibiotics to Dara. “Schroeder’s job is to be protective, and so now he puts his hand on any door handle—sort of his way of saying ‘We will not be separated,’” Jungheim says. “Dara is definitely his number one. We call him Dara’s 500-pound shadow.”
Now that their first offspring Arlene is getting bigger and eating some solid foods, she’s growing more independent, too, climbing off of Dara’s shoulders and lap to investigate her habitat. Visitors to Gorilla Forest will start to see more of Arlene and her family this spring, as they venture out of their behind-the-scenes room and begin exploring the outdoors with a more robust toddler. “Schroeder’s an older male who’s never been one for playing, but we’ve observed that he’s being very gentle and protective with Arlene so far,” says Jungheim. “We’ve even seen her sitting in Schroeder’s hand.”