In the very heart of the San Diego Zoo you’ll find the gorillas. Our gorillas are divided into two troops, each led by a handsome and impressive silverback (adult male). Silverback Memba’s troop consists of female Jessica and his sons Mandazzi and Ekuba. Silverback Paul Donn’s troop consists of females Azizi, Imani, Ndjia, and little Frank.
The two troops alternate days: while one troop is outside being admired by Zoo visitors, the other troop spends its “off” day indoors in the spacious gorilla “bedrooms.” Our younger apes love to tumble down the grassy slope into the large viewing area, and you’ll usually find a gorilla or two seated next to the window, doing some people-watching!
Some scientists believe that bonobos are the most intelligent of the primates (other than humans, of course!). Maybe that’s because, genetically, bonobos are considered our closest living relatives. They share many of our human behaviors, such as teaching their young social skills, using tools to get food, and working together for the good of the entire troop. Bonobos even laugh when they are tickling each other or playing together, and they do other things that may remind you of some people you know!
Earlier scientists thought the bonobo Pan paniscus was just a smaller version of the common chimpanzee Pan troglodytes, and so the term “pygmy chimpanzee” was used. But don’t be fooled! Bonobos and chimps are really quite different. For example, chimpanzees are omnivours: they’ll eat meat, including monkeys! Bonobos eat leaves, stems, fruits, worms, insects, and sometimes small fish.
While chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas are usually found in groups called troops—socializing, foraging, or playing—orangutans tend to be more solitary. Orangutans don’t live in big family groups like other great apes. An adult female lives with her children, but that is the largest grouping. Adult males usually live alone. The orangutans at the Zoo include two males, adult Satu and youngster Cinta, and females Janey, Karen, and Indah.
This year marks a very special orangutan’s birthday—Janey is turning 50! She arrived in San Diego in 1984 and has made a name for herself as the Zoo’s resident orangutan artist. She loves to paint and has created several one-of-a-kind masterpieces. We’ll be celebrating Janey's birfthday every day during Absolutely Apes with special birthday enrichment treats. You can catch all of the fun in person at the Zoo—or catch it live on our HD Ape Cam!
Orangutans and siamangs, indigenous to the same Asian rain forest ecosystem, share a habitat at the Zoo. Their exhibit provides a lush, naturalistic environment where these arboreal apes can climb, swing, and live in the same terrain as they would in the wild. The siamang is in the same scientific family as gibbons and is well-suited for life in a forest’s treetops. Unlike great apes, siamangs do not build nests, because they sleep sitting upright on branches.
Siamang calls are legendary. All gibbons can make amazingly loud sounds, and the siamang’s "song" includes booms and barks, made louder by the inflatable throat sac that can be inflated to be as large as its head. These booming calls can be heard up to two miles (3.2 kilometers) away.
At first blush, red-cheeked gibbons may look like monkeys, but they are actually small (or “lesser”) apes. Like all apes (and us), they lack a tail and have a clavicle, or collar-bone, that allows them to reach over their head. The gibbon’s hook-like hands have four strong, long fingers and a small opposable thumb, which makes swinging through the trees a breeze. This locomotion is called brachiation.
Like their fellow gibbons, siamangs, and unlike great apes, red-cheeked gibbons form monogomous pairs and raise their young together. Female red-cheeked gibbons are blonde, as are the youngsters that ride on their mother’s belly or back. Adult males are black, with distinguished buff-colored (not red, despite their common name) cheek patches.