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Israeli apes draw the crowds

  • Apes6
There are four young Israelis living in Pretoria who have caused quite a stir – not least of all because they are housed at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG). Three of them hail from Tel Aviv, and one from Jerusalem. And, their every move is monitored as they are on constant display, with people coming from all over to see them.
by PETA KROST MAUNDER | Nov 08, 2018

The reason is simple. Two of them – Louie and Asali – are huge, beautiful male Western lowland gorillas from Ramat Gan Zoo in Tel Aviv. They arrived at the NZG in 2010, and have set up home with two Swiss nationals.

The other two, Joran and Abshalom, are young male chimpanzees. They are more recent immigrants, one from Ramat Gan Zoo, and the other from the Tisch Family Zoo in Jerusalem. They arrived in South Africa in December 2015, and the zoo has had quite a challenge getting them acquainted as they had never met before.

“We had to be very cautious because chimps can be vicious, and hugely competitive if they don’t know each other,” says Craig Allenby, the acting manager director of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) at NZG. “So, they got acquainted through bars until this year, when we let them interact with each other and live together.”

It was best friends at first sight, according to Allenby. “From the moment they were allowed to be with one another, they have been great pals. They get on famously, playing with each other all the time. This will be the first holiday season that people will be able to see them together.”

Abshalom loves to groom Joran and himself when they are outside, says Allenby. Joran prefers dry leaves for his nesting material, steering away from fresh banana leaves. As for nourishment, Joran prefers fresh food, while Abshalom is fonder of boiled vegetables.

Of the two, Abshalom is the dominant one, and is the first to go into the night rooms. He will fetch Joran if he doesn’t follow him.

While they both love cold yoghurt and ice lollies filled with raisins, neither are fans of rain and thunderstorms.

The Israeli gorillas were placed at the NZG by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums eight years ago, and form part of their studbook. Louie and Asali are both big boys, with Louie weighing 260kg and Asali 200kg.

They are doing very well at the NZG, and are great pals with each other and their Swiss mates, Bonsi and Binga, who also arrived in 2010.

While Louie is attempting to become the dominant male, it is Asali who likes to play and beat his chest. They both love boiled eggs, oranges, celery, and yoghurt. They also have a penchant for peanut butter in cones, and use twigs to dig it out from the cones. They dislike onions, but love popcorn.

“They make nests in the night rooms, and don’t want to be separated from each other,” says Allenby. “They have access to each other throughout the night.”

The gorillas understand commands, and respond to being called. “We are able to call the gorillas to come into their night rooms,” says Allenby. “They have a close bond, which means that they don’t hurt each other.”

Having said that, Asali enjoys bathing, playing with water, and splashing Louie. Louie, however, is a bit like a naughty child, and can be destructive. He likes bamboo to eat and play with, and enjoys banana leaves and stems.

These four young sabras have captivated NZG zoo goers, who make a beeline for the adorable Middle Eastern apes.

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