It’s already been two weeks since the debut of the geladas in Africa Rocks at the San Diego Zoo—and I could not be more proud of them. They have come a long way, not only in their travels from the Wilhelma Zoo in Stuttgart, Germany, but also in terms of their growth into the bold, confident boys you see now.
I felt sure that they would at least step foot into their new home on day one—but they did so much more than that. It only took them approximately four minutes to work up the courage to leave their bedrooms. Valentino was the first to step onto the freshly laid soil, and within their first couple of hours they had explored the majority of the habitat (and pulled out roughly 36 plants!).
Since their arrival last year, we have spent many hours preparing them for their big debut in Africa Rocks, and it has definitely paid off. We would’ve likely not been nearly as successful had we not spent the time building up our relationships with them or made time for our daily training sessions in which we continued to build their trust using solely positive reinforcement techniques. They’ve even surpassed my expectations!
It’s been exhilarating watching them show off their natural behaviors. Their habitat gives them the opportunity to climb cliffs, dig, leap, and pluck grasses as they would naturally in the wild. It was a riot watching them on the first day especially when they discovered their own personal plateau to “dive” off of one after the other. They will have you gasping one second and laughing the next. If you haven’t yet come by to give Juma, Valentino, Saburi, Abasi, Mahbub, and Diwani your best attempt at the customary gelada lip flip greeting, then you are missing out!
Sandy Distatte is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.