Safari Park’s ‘Sweet and Fearless’ Gorilla Turns 3

Joanne Receives Butterfly Birthday Party Fit for a Princess

Joanne, a western lowland gorilla, and her troop celebrated her third birthday today (March 8, 2017), with a spectacular butterfly-themed party in honor of Butterfly Jungle, which begins at the Safari Park this weekend.

The whole troop entered a habitat packed with colorful decorations, including present boxes, butterfly cutouts, gourds filled with popcorn and other treats and, of course, an ice cake—this time a grape-flavored cake with the number 3 on the top, and ice pieces on the side that spelled out “Joanne.” The birthday girl explored the space, collecting lettuce, popcorn and other treats, while her father, Winston, claimed the large birthday cake as his own—eating the “3” off the top and leaving just the tasty ice formations behind. The different elements of the birthday party provided the gorillas with the opportunity to exercise control and make their own choices in ways that make behavior meaningful to them.

Joanne had a difficult start in life. She was born at the Park’s Paul Harter Veterinary Medical Center via a rare emergency C-section, due to complications during her mother’s labor. Over the next 11 days, the young gorilla had an uphill battle, as veterinarians treated her first for a collapsed lung and then a respiratory disease—all requiring her to receive round-the-clock care. During that difficult time, animal care staff remained optimistic; and after an arduous two weeks, Joanne pulled through, gaining strength. She was eventually returned to the gorilla house to be reunited with her mother.

Today, Joanne is a healthy and very active youngster—often seen wrestling, running and playing with her two favorite male troop mates, 5-year-old Monroe and 8-year-old Frank. Animal care staff describe her an amazing gorilla that is not only a sweet girl, but also a fearless one.

Check out the below YouTube playlist following Joanne’s incredible story from birth:

“She very adventurous. She loves to play, climb and explore,” said Peggy Sexton, lead keeper in the mammal department at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “Given the difficult start she had in life, it’s really rewarding to see that she’s a happy, healthy, normal gorilla.”

Gorillas are listed as Critically Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Threats to the species include people hunting gorillas for food, called bushmeat; loss of habitat due to logging and mining; and disease, such as Ebola. The past 15 years have seen a dramatic decline in gorilla numbers, with almost half of the entire eastern gorilla species population believed to have been wiped out. San Diego Zoo Global has partnered with multiple organizations and local conservationists in Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon to shed light on gorilla genetic variations across regions, and to promote community-led conservation initiatives.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park can see Joanne and the other eight members of her troop in their habitat at Gorilla Forest.

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