When the Dublin, Ireland Zoo created a multi-species zoo exhibit for gorillas and monkeys, a young lowland gorilla and a red-capped mangabey became fast friends. Their affectionate hug, posted by Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP-UNEP), sparked up social media earlier this month, leaving many animal lovers worldwide intrigued, awe-inspired, and reflective.
Some felt that the embrace was “almost human,” while others stated that this friendship was instead an example for humans to follow. One commenter noted that it was a “beautiful declaration,” while another called it “a lesson to be learned by mankind.”
The enclosure that these two friends share is both expansive and ambitious. At 12,000 square meters (129,167 square feet), the Dublin Zoo’s Gorilla Rainforest exhibit is its largest development undertaken in years, and features terrain that was inspired by the lush lowland rainforest of western Africa. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) can be found in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and Gabon.
Population numbers on free-living western lowland gorillas are difficult to obtain, given this species’ propensity to inhabit thick, remote rainforests. Given this species’ preference for tranquil, private environments, creating comfortable captive enclosures can be problematic. According to the Dulin Zoo, the landscape was strongly influenced by behavioral studies of free-living gorillas. The zoo wrote on its website: “The Gorilla Rainforest provides a new and exciting experience for visitors to observe the gorillas in a natural environment. Discovering the gorillas requires patience and at least half an hour is needed to explore the Gorilla Rainforest.”
The territory of these two species does overlap in free-living situations, with the Red-Capped Mangabey (Cercocebus torquatus) typically ranging along the Atlantic coastal areas of central and western Africa, inhabiting forests in Gabon, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo, and Cameroon. The two species frequently share in common at least four countries, and while it’s not known how often they associate with one another in free-living situations, Gaiapark Zoo in the South of Holland also has an interspecies exhibit with gorillas and mangabeys.
This new take on zoo enclosures, using the animals’ needs rather than the needs of the guests as a point of departure, has at least two new fans. May this young gorilla and this red-capped mangabey share many more happy moments together – and may all future zoo exhibits take into account the emotional, psychological, social, and physical needs of its animals in addition to presenting an appealing exhibit to its patrons.