Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Liam and the Gorilla

Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Last Friday, as part of his 10th birthday celebration extravaganza, we took Liam and his sister Phoebe, and two of their Columbus pals, to the Columbus Zoo. Liam really wanted to see the gorillas, though he assured me that the bison was still his favorite animal.

So, after checking out several of the other animal exhibits (broken up into continental themes: Asia, Africa, North America, etc) we headed over to the Gorilla House to visit the relatives. The gorillas at the Columbus zoo are western lowland gorillas.

What happened next was pretty cool.

We were looking through the thick glass enclosure at a humongous male silver-backed gorilla. It was eating some tiny seeds it was picking up off the floor. Liam was fascinated to be so close to such a huge animal. Adult male western lowland gorillas can weigh almost 500 pounds and stand 6-feet tall. They are called "silver-backeds" because the hair on their backs goes silver as they age—at about 12 years old. Males younger than 12 years have all black hair.

I couldn't resist taking some pictures of Liam watching the male eating.
And then the male turned to look at Liam...

And the two shared a moment of quiet, mutual contemplation....

I was so proud of Liam for staying in the moment and for realizing how special it was to be looked at by a mature male gorilla.

The only thing Liam said was "Man, this gorilla really likes looking at me!"

Liam even canted his head to the side, aping the great ape's head position.

We humans have something like 98% similarity in our DNA to that of western lowland gorillas. And yet, gorillas are endangered wherever they occur due to deforestation, bush-meat hunting, and persecution. While it's not as special to see gorillas in a zoo as it would be to see them in the wild, places like the Columbus Zoo help to educate (and fascinate) the public about these incredible animals. And the Columbus Zoo generously funds a variety of gorilla research and conservation programs in countries where these wondrous animals are struggling to sustain their populations.

If you have not yet been to the see the gorillas at the Columbus Zoo, I'd highly recommend a visit. Take the kids. Take the neighbors. Take your friends. But definitely take yourself. By the way, 2009 is the Year of the Gorilla at the zoo.

As we were leaving the gorillas, Liam waved goodbye to his new pal. And then he said "Waal, I think that giant man gorilla knew it was my birthday and that's why we had a special connection!"

Who was I to argue with that?


On November 11, 2009 at 9:10 PM Julie Zickefoose said...

Big, king-sized lump in my throat. Mumbah is the MAN.

On November 11, 2009 at 9:15 PM robin andrea said...

Liam had an experience he'll remember for the rest of his life (on top of all the mind-blowing experiences he's already had). Making eye contact with a gorilla is like nothing else. I think Liam was right, that gorilla knew it was his special day, and said his birthday greeting in his silver-backed way. Thrilling.

On November 12, 2009 at 11:40 AM Jason Kessler said...

Thrilling pix! Thanks for letting us share that wonderful moment.

On November 15, 2009 at 10:17 AM Caroline said...

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs years ago we had similar experience with a gorilla. Those dark brown eyes had the wisdom of the ages and such a human-ness to them,it was profound.