Hi. I am Maureen Leahy, curator of primates at Lincoln Park Zoo. In my work here I manage about a dozen species, ranging from a 480-pound silverback within Regenstein Center for African Apes to the 480-gram pied tamarins within the Helen Brach Primate House. I also work one-on-one with the Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, collaborating on projects with our ape-research team.
One important element of my job is overseeing the enrichment program for primates. Enrichment encourages our monkeys and apes to behave dynamically and interact socially like they would in the wild.
Tomorrow, we’re celebrating former Lincoln Park Zoo President Dr. Lester Fisher’s 90th birthday at 10:30 a.m. in Regenstein Center for African Apes. We’ve scheduled JoJo’s gorilla group to receive special enrichment including cake-shaped piñatas stuffed with treats.
Piñatas are like puzzles for gorillas, challenging them to figure out how to get at the fruits and veggies inside. The cardboard is similar to the tough, fibrous plant material gorillas eat in the wild, which they process with specially adapted molars.
It’s also interesting to see how enrichment items highlight social dynamics. Just as if this group stumbled upon a ripe fruit tree in the wild, JoJo always gets first pick of treats, followed by dominant females Bahati and Makari. Youngsters Azizi and Suzie and subordinate female Tabibu come last.
As someone who grew up in Chicagoland admiring Lincoln Park Zoo’s apes and Dr. Fisher in particular, I am really excited to be celebrating this milestone. I hope to see you there!