Friday, June 19, 2009

Gorilla War Averted After Ape Grabs Knife

gorilla brings a banana to a knife fight
There's no gorilla warfare going on at the Calgary Zoo.

Photographs taken after a keeper accidentally left a knife in the zoo's gorilla enclosure appear to tell a menacing story. One shows a gorilla, named Barika, clutching the blade in her black, hairy hand, seemingly pointing the sharp end at an unsuspecting troop mate sitting nearby.

But zoo officials say the primates don't understand the idea of using weapons and were never in any real danger.

A keeper carried the paring knife into the enclosure to help prepare food for the gorillas, said Cathy Gaviller, the zoo's director of conservation, education and research.

He stuck the blade in his pocket, but it slid out unnoticed and was left behind.

Soon, a curious Barika stumbled across the shiny object and picked it up by the handle.

That's when Joe and Heike Scheffler, who were standing outside the enclosure with about 20 people, including several children, noticed it glinting.

"In the first moment, I thought it might be a (toy)," said Joe Scheffler, adding people began pointing and murmuring as they caught sight of the blade.

"I though maybe it's out of rubber, but I thought no, it's ... a knife, you can see the steel, you see it's really bright and there's no rust."

"You see that it's a knife, but you think it's not possible there's a knife inside."

Scheffler's wife snapped photographs as Barika carried the knife around, holding it near another female gorilla, named Zuri.

Within minutes of picking the blade up, Barika placed it on a chair and all of the gorillas were called out of the enclosure by keepers, Gaviller said.

The zoo actually has a system in place to retrieve lost items that have slipped into the enclosure.

"The public members quite often drop cameras or sunglasses or hats or water bottles, by accident, into the exhibit," Gaviller said. "So this ... is actually a fairly common procedure."

The primates will often pick up new items in their enclosure out of curiosity, but they quickly get bored if they can't eat the objects or figure out a use for them, she said.

While gorillas will use crude tools in captivity, they have no concept of using weapons and would never have thought to be violent with the knife, Gaviller said, adding any aggression seen in the photographs is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

"Gorillas are very passive, non-aggressive, shy-temperament creatures, and certainly the idea of a tool to hurt another gorilla is entirely foreign to their behaviour," she said.

It's zoo policy for keepers to count tools and equipment going in and coming out of exhibits.

"Clearly this was an oversight by a very dedicated professional, a very experienced keeper," said Gaviller.

"We will be reviewing those procedures will all the staff, just to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Full story here.

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