A Very Happy First Birthday

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March 12 was a big day at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Baby gorilla Joanne turned one year old, and the staff threw her an epic birthday party! Joanne’s first few weeks in this world required a giant team effort. Unable to deliver Joanne on her own, mom Imani had to undergo a C-section. Subsequently, due to minor health complications, Joanne needed around-the-clock care from a team of veterinary staff, keeper staff from both the Safari Park and the Zoo, and human neonatal specialists.

Joanne's first birthday was, well, the icing on the cake of her extraordinary story.

Joanne’s first birthday was, well, the icing on the cake of her extraordinary story.

Fittingly, one year later, a second team of enthusiastic people assembled to help celebrate this joyful milestone. Safari Park volunteers and staff from the forage, horticulture, and mammal departments worked hard to transform the gorilla exhibit into a lively birthday bash. Decorations included ice cakes and cupcakes, fresh browse branches, streamers, papier-mâché balloons, colorful chalk drawings, cardboard box gifts and animals, and even an over-sized dollhouse large enough for Joanne and the other two youngsters in the group, six-year-old Frank and three-year-old Monroe, to climb on!

The entire troop partied all morning long, spreading out and claiming different areas of the exhibit and clusters of decorations to explore and enjoy. A lively and vibrant one-year-old, Joanne was able to partake in the festivities right alongside the rest of her family. Her favorite treat items seemed to be the flowering browse branches and the ice cakes, but she was also greatly entertained simply by bouncing around investigating all the colorful décor.

These days we see Joanne becoming a more active member of her gorilla troop. She interacts more often with other individuals besides her mom—including play sessions with Frank and Monroe. She has also shown brave interest in Winston, her rather stoic dad who is not often seen breaking character to fool around with the kids. When not playing with others, Joanne easily entertains herself. You can often see her using Imani as a jungle gym, or climbing up and sliding down ropes and smooth rocks around the exhibit. To a one-year-old gorilla, the world is your playground!

Jami Pawlowski is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Baby Joanne’s Growing Diet.

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  1. Robert Mendoza