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Zoo Blog

Western Lowland Gorilla

Everybody knows a gorilla when we see one, don’t we? Huge, muscular and serious, sometimes they can even appear a little frightening. We’ve seen gorillas portrayed in films like King Kong but is he anything like the real gorilla?

Despite what you may think, gorillas are shy and peaceful mammals and these intelligent animals share a full range of emotions with us humans: love, fear, grief, joy, greed, generosity, pride, shame, empathy and even jealousy. They communicate with each other by using gestures, body postures, facial expressions, vocal sounds, chest-slaps, drumming and also by their odours. They are even capable of understanding spoken languages and they can learn to communicate in sign language!


The only natural enemy of the gorillas has always been humans and there are only four types of gorilla left in the wild as destruction of their natural habitat and poaching continue to do incredible damage to the population of these amazing apes in the wild.

Unfortunately, gorillas are still hunted for meat and trophies in some parts of Africa, but the most serious threat to wild gorillas is the increasing human population. As more and more people take over the land for agriculture, logging and other development, the gorillas have nowhere left to go.



The species of gorillas you will see at Dublin Zoo are called western lowland gorillas. In the wild, these great apes live in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon in Africa. The western lowland gorilla eats plants, and occasionally insects and small reptiles. Males can eat up to 9kg a day! They have black to greyish or reddish-brown hair and all males grow a silver grey colour across the back and upper thighs at sexual maturity.



New born gorillas are very small, weighing only about 2kg. Young gorillas must learn how to find food and make nests. As with humans, social structure is really important and these youngsters quickly pick up how to get along with other gorillas.

Gorillas sleep about 13 hours each night and rest for several hours at midday. They love to eat leafy vegetables, fruit and leafy branches and they live to around 40 years of age.

Western lowland gorillas are listed as critically endangered. In the past 25 years the population has declined by 60 per cent.



Sulawesi-crested macaque: An Endangered Indonesian Monkey

Sulawesi-crested macaques, as the name suggests, are found on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. A distinctive characteristic of this monkey is that the hair on the top of its head grows in a tuft, or crest, which is why it is called the “crested” macaque. The Sulawesi-crested monkey is also known simply as the ‘black ape’ or locally known as yaki.

Unfortunately, these monkeys are a critically endangered species due to habitat loss and fragmentation.  Yaki’s skin and hairless face is entirely black, they also possess unusual reddish-brown eyes. The Sulawesi-crested macaque appear very ‘ape-like’ due to its almost non-existent, non-visible tail!


The population of Sulawesi-crested macaques living in the wild is approximately 4,000- 6,000. The crested-macaques are the first animals that visitors are likely to see on entering Dublin Zoo as their two island habitats are close to the front entrance.

Crested-macaques are ‘diurnal’, meaning they are mostly active during the day. They spend up to 60% of their time foraging on the ground in search of roots, shoots, fallen fruits, insects and other similar foods. Family groups are made up mainly of females, with their offspring, and one or two breeding males, depending on the size of the group.

Groups of macaques can range in size from 5 to 25! The females become sexually mature at about five years of age and a receptive female is very obvious because of her large pink bottom which is a very strong signal to males that she is ready to mate. When female crested-macaques become pregnant, they carry that baby for approximately 5-6 months.

Crested-macaques can live for up to 20 years of age and they are also very social animals, they even spend much of their time grooming each other!


One of the ‘hamsters’ of the monkey world, Sulawesi macaques often stuff their cheek pouches with food to eat later!



The Endangered Red Panda

Many people admire the red panda for its fascinating, kitten-like face and admirable agility. Red pandas are slightly bigger than a house cat, with cinnamon-red fur and a long furry tail. Surprisingly, red panda fossils have been discovered in North America that date as far back as 5 million years! Today, however, red pandas are only found in mountain territories in China, Nepal, India, Bhutan, and Burma. They live on slopes with a dense forest floor of bamboo. Bamboo is the red panda’s favourite food, but they will also eat fruits, grasses, birds’ eggs and insects!


Unfortunately, red pandas are becoming an endangered species and it’s believed that the population of red pandas has declined by a huge 50% in the past 18 years alone.  The status of red pandas has recently gone from vulnerable to endangered. This means that red pandas are at serious risk of extinction. Sadly, the red panda faces numerous threats. The human population where the red panda lives is growing quickly and more people need more land on which to live and farm. This results in their habitat being destroyed or broken up. People sometimes bring domestic herds and dogs with them into the red panda’s habitat. Herds trample and eat the bamboo while dogs spread ‘canine distemper’, a disease which is fatal to red pandas.


To add to this, bamboo plants blossom across huge areas then die off around the same time resulting in an extended absence of bamboo at the end of their cycle. Bamboo then finds it difficult to grow back where the forest has been damaged, and so, red pandas struggle to find new bamboo patches, especially if the forests have been broken up. A further difficulty is that red pandas are also caught for meat, skins and traditional medicine and live red pandas are caught for the pet trade.



Dublin Zoo, along with other European zoos, is providing funding for red panda conservation in Nepal. Specifically, Dublin Zoo is supporting a project coordinated by the Red Panda Network in the Panchthar-Ilam-Taplejung (PIT) corridor. This corridor links important habitats for red pandas that are home to 25% of the red panda population in Nepal.

The project operates with local people who want to help out with saving the red pandas, they’re called forest guardians! Forest guardians monitor red panda populations and their habitat in their local areas and collect information on how people are using the forest. They also raise awareness about red pandas and their threats in their local communities and are involved with anti-poaching activities.



There are approximately 700 red pandas in zoos worldwide and most of them are part of a managed global breeding programme. This is a back-up population to the wild population and individuals from zoos may help in supplementing wild populations or reintroducing the red panda back into areas where it has disappeared. Dublin Zoo has cared for red pandas since 1997 and, during this time, 17 red pandas have been born here. 

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