One of the most popular animals in the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit at WCS’s Bronx Zoo is Ernie, the 36-year-old western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Ernie is the largest gorilla and primate residing at the zoo. He spends most of his days lounging in large nests and playing with his five offspring. Adult male gorillas are called silverback males due to the saddle of silver hair across their backs. Ernie is one of six silverback males currently residing in the Congo Gorilla Forest.

All of the gorillas at the Bronx Zoo, participates in operant condition training sets with the zookeeper staff. The goal of the training sets is husbandry-based, meaning they aid in monitoring and maintaining the health of the gorillas. The current focus of the training for the six silverbacks living at the zoo is having them participate in voluntary cardiac ultrasounds. The keepers, in conjunction with the veterinary team, practice daily ultrasound training with Ernie. Gorillas, like all ape species, can develop cardiac disease and ultrasounds enable the staff to monitor the heart health of each of the silverbacks.

The data collected from the training sets is shared with the Great Ape Heart Project, an organization of zoo professionals whose goal is to create a baseline of ape cardiac health to better understand and treat heart-related disease. Ernie not only helps with his own health regimen but that of all apes living in zoos worldwide.

EDITOR’ S NOTE: The story of Ernie the western lowland gorilla was featured on Sunday’s episode of Animal Planet’s THE ZOO now in its third season. The series takes viewers behind the scenes at the Bronx Zoo and the other WCS wildlife parks in New York City to tell powerful, compelling stories of animals and their care givers, and the zoos’ contribution to conserving wildlife around the globe.

Nikon D5


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