Today I’ll be highlighting our 20-year-old female gorilla, Honi. As I mentioned last week, our family group of gorillas includes a silverback named Motuba, as well as our two females, Honi and Kira.
Honi was born at the Bronx Zoo, and as the dominant female in our group, she’s pretty tough! She came here in 2007 with her son Kuchimba and is most easily identified by her stature—she's a bit smaller than Kira. The hair on the tops of her shoulders also flips up, giving the appearance of “wings.”
Honi is super laid back, and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't hurt a fly—although she has been known to instigate a fight or two among the other gorillas, then sit back and watch it all unfold! He have even seen her eating a handful of popcorn while watching the others duke it out. It's normal for gorillas to bicker occasionally over food or the best napping spot, and females will fight amongst themselves to establish their position in the troop hierarchy. These tussles are generally pretty short, with the intention being to send a message rather than physically injure, and they rarely result in anything more than a couple of scratches.
It's usually the silverback's job to referee these scuffles among the females, but you will occasionally see the silverback picking a fight with one of the girls. Honi is fiercely loyal to her female compatriot, Kira, when it comes to defending her against Motuba. Honi and Kira lived without a silverback for several months before Motuba arrived, and although we didn’t see a whole lot of bonding or affectionate behavior while they were alone, it became clear as soon as we introduced them to Motuba that Honi had Kira’s back. When Kira and Motuba were getting to know each other, Motuba would sometimes pick on Kira, and Honi would swoop in and grab a fistful of his hair, enough to distract Motuba from further pursuing Kira. We’ve even seen Honi and Kira play, something that is not as common among adult gorillas. All of that being said, Honi will not hesitate to put Kira in her place or remind her who’s boss.
One of Honi’s favorite pastimes is sitting on the landing directly outside of the shift door between the dayroom and the yard and looking out when it rains. I call it her front porch, because it’s covered by the balcony, so she can be outside while still keeping dry.
Honi is also really interested in the Zoo’s visitors—especially kids. She often sits right at the glass, gazing out into the crowd. She’s been known to interact with children, doing hand gestures that sort of look like she’s blowing kisses! It often leads to the question, “Do your gorillas know sign language?” The answer is no, we’ve never taught any of our gorillas sign language. When it comes to training, we typically stick to behaviors that are related to the husbandry or veterinary care of the animals. We do teach them a few “fun” behaviors, though—like sticking out their tongues—simply because it’s cute, and they enjoy being challenged to learn new things!
Honi has a breeding recommendation with Motuba, so we hope that she'll be a mama again sometime soon!
By Kristen Farley-Rambo, Primary Gorilla Keeper