San Diego Zoo Safari Park Celebrates Gorilla’s First Birthday

Guests were lined up along the entire gorilla-viewing area this morning at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park to watch the troop’s reaction to the gifts and decorations for Joanne’s first birthday.

The birthday girl rode out on her mother’s back and stayed there while her mother, Imani, swiped up an ice cupcake–made with pureed yams–and hopped down when mom stopped to lick a mirrored toy smeared with peanut butter. The rest of the troop scattered throughout the exhibit to try to find their favorite snacks.

The whole gorilla troop enjoyed the birthday treats.

The whole gorilla troop enjoyed the birthday treats.

There were two cakes–a large one for the troop—and a smaller, Joanne-sized cake, both colored orange using oranges, orange juice and pureed yams and sweet potatoes. A Safari Park volunteer even made a cardboard doll house for Joanne with the house number “1” on the front.

Animal care staff had drawn “Happy Birthday Joanne” with chalk on the rock walls at the back of the gorilla habitat and filled the grassy yard with gift boxes filled with treats including sunflower seeds, peanuts, fruit slices and vegetables, encouraging the gorillas to forage for their food, which is a natural behavior for this species.

While the entire troop helped to open the boxes placed around the exhibit, Joanne was happy to dig out the fruit and vegetables that were frozen into her cake. She ventured away from Mom and foraged on her own, and could be seen eating flowers from plant trimmings given to the gorillas by Park horticulture staff.

“This is an extra-special first birthday because Joanne did have a very difficult start coming into the world,” said Peggy Sexton, animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “She had to be born via C-section, and had some medical problems. But those were all resolved in about 10 days and she was re-introduced to the troop and now she’s just as normal as can be.”

Joanne was born on March 12, 2014, at the Paul Harter Veterinary Hospital via a rare emergency C-section, which was needed due to complications during first-time mother Imani’s labor. After spending 11 days in the hospital, Joanne was strong and healthy enough to travel to the gorilla house to be reunited with her mother and meet the rest of the gorilla troop.

Now a year old, Joanne is very active and can be seen running around the grassy habitat in Gorilla Forest and playing with other members of the troop including youngsters, 3-year-old Monroe and 6-year-old Frank. Keepers say that the young males are eager to interact with Joanne and even though Imani is very protective of her baby, she sometimes lets Frank briefly hold her. Younger male, Monroe, often will play a more mischievous role, poking and peering at Joanne before quickly running away.

While her primary source of nutrition is still from nursing, the growing gorilla is curious of any food items that her mother is eating and will watch as Imani forages, mimicking those behaviors by picking up fruits and veggies on her own.

Joanne was named in honor of Joanne Warren, the first chairwoman of the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes onsite wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.

Photo taken on March 12, 2015 by Tammy Spratt, San Diego Zoo Safari Park.