Source: Nature: "Snowflake: The White Gorilla"
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In 1956, Snowflake, a white gorilla was captured in the wild and later housed in a zoo in Barcelona, Spain. In years past, captive gorillas were confined to cells alone and fed meat. Now scientists understand that gorillas are vegetarians and should live together as a family. Today, zoos construct environments to reflect gorillas’ natural habitats. In this video segment from Nature, discover how scientists have learned how to better raise and care for gorillas in captivity and learn about Colo, the first gorilla born in a zoo.
The following Frame, Focus and Follow-up suggestions are best suited for elementary or middle school students using this video in an English language arts or science lesson. Be sure to modify the questions to meet your students' instructional needs.
What is Frame, Focus and Follow-up?
Frame (ELA) Are your thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, values, and experiences the same as those of your friends? Are they the same as the members of your family? Are they the same as your teacher’s? Are they the same as someone from another culture or another country? Would you agree that we all have different perspectives based on our varied thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes, values, and experiences? With a friend, discuss each other’s perspectives about a relevant issue, such as drilling an oil well in the middle of Yellowstone National Park.
Focus (ELA) Watch the video to determine how scientists’ perspectives about raising and breeding gorillas in captivity changed based on new knowledge we gained about how gorillas live in the wild.
Follow Up (ELA) The new knowledge we have gained about how gorillas live in the wild has altered how we breed and raise gorillas in captivity. Discuss how gaining new knowledge from various texts can inform our perspectives on issues. Why is it important to be knowledgable about a topic before forming an opinion or perspective about it? Can a perspective change? Explain.
Frame (SCI) What animals do you see at a zoo? How do wild animals come to live in a zoo?
Focus (SCI) How do scientists learn how to take care of wild animals in captivity?
Follow Up (SCI) Discuss how scientists learned to take care of the gorillas living in zoos. What and how did they learn through their mistakes? Discuss scientific knowledge and how it is gained through experimentation and trial and error. Can you think of other scientific breakthroughs that were discovered this way?
NARRATOR: Every gorilla in captivity was an orphan and every one had a story to tell.
From the moment gorillas were first discovered, they were in huge demand. Everyone wanted to see one and zoos across Europe and America were desperate to exhibit them.
Only young gorillas could be taken safely. Adults were too strong, too difficult to handle and transport.
This was the route most gorillas followed into zoos right up until the 1970’s when it became illegal to import gorillas from Africa.
But then at a small zoo in Ohio things began to change. In 1956 Columbus Zoo announced the arrival of the first gorilla to be born in captivity.
It was sheer luck that the tiny baby was discovered soon after she was born – and miraculous that she survived.
She was named Colo and like Snowflake, she became a celebrity. More than a million visitors came to see her during her first year of life. And for those who couldn’t make the journey to Columbus, there was television.
TV ANNOUNCER: Meet Colo, the first gorilla ever born in captivity. She almost died at birth but Colo is four months old and thriving now under the care of Mrs. Mildred Davis.
NARRATOR:For the first time, captive breeding of gorillas became a real possibility.
TV ANNOUNCER: Papa who resides in the Columbus Municipal Zoo gets his first glimpse of Colo. The proud father is a little puzzled at the baby’s strange getup courtesy of Mrs. Davis, wife of the Zoo superintendent, but even in human clothes you can see the family resemblance. Yes, Dad, that’s your little girl!
Our intentions were good… but our limited knowledge of gorilla family life meant we made mistakes that would affect generations of gorillas to come.
TV ANNOUNCER: Vicky is a healthy baby but Dallas Zoo authorities are taking no chances. They’ll keep her in the incubator for a few weeks to give her a good head start. One thing is sure – her appetite is fine.
NARRATOR:These babies were so precious, it was considered risky for a gorilla mother to raise them. But in our ignorance, we broke the link of learning between a mother and her child. Raised by humans, these infants never learned to be mothers themselves. In just one generation skills that would have been essential to their survival in the wild were lost.
Colo has remained at the Columbus Zoo, and today, at 48, she’s a great grandmother and part of an extended family group. But it has not been easy for Colo. She has never been able to care for her own babies. In fact, 3 generations of Colo’s family have not raised their own offspring.
These days, zoos are attempting to provide hand-reared baby gorillas with the fundamentals of family.
Gorilla keepers here have spent many years developing a special family surrogacy program. The latest participant is Dotty … Colo’s great granddaughter. And while she is irresistible to these children, the keepers know Dotty’s real place is with a family of her own kind.
Barb Jones has been caring for baby gorillas at the zoo for more than 20 years.
BARB JONES:If a baby has to be pulled from its mother – and it’s certainly the last thing we would ever chose to do – it’s only because either the mother’s health is compromised and she can’t take care of the infant which is what happened in this case or perhaps the baby’s health is compromised. And as soon as the infant comes to the nursery – the next day if it’s possible with her health – we are right back beside the gorillas. So she never loses the sounds, the smells, the sights of what it’s like to be with the gorillas. So gone are the clothes, and gone are the baby food, the dresses and we now do everything we can to become gorilla mothers so that they can be a good gorilla infant.
NARRATOR: If Dotty is accepted into this gorilla family, then the program will have been successful. And if all goes according to plan, Dotty will be adopted by one of the older, more experienced females.
Mumbah is the silverback male and leader of the group. His role will be to help protect Dotty from the exuberance of the juveniles.
Her new surrogate mother will not be able to suckle her, and she must learn to take milk from a bottle.
Dotty will soon be ready to become part of her new family, but until the moment is judged to be right, she needs the 24-hour care of her human foster mothers.
BARB JONES: At the beginning she’s held constantly because that’s what a good gorilla mother would do. They just don’t put their babies down so we don’t put her down. As she grows a little older and starts crawling off our lap she always stays within an area where we can touch her. We’re always there so that she can crawl back on to us for safety. We do play. We do tickle and laughter. Gorillas love to laugh and play.”
As of the beginning of the 21st Century more than half the gorillas in captivity have been born in a zoo to zoo-bred parents.
But for many babies like Dotty, prospects are now improving.
BARB JONES: We want all these animals to have a chance to be raised in a group and be happy gorillas, healthy gorillas and good parents.
In the past, our lack of understanding about the needs of gorillas was a reflection of how little we knew about them in the wild.
NARRATOR: Today, zoos are doing everything in their power to reverse the trend of earlier years. But for Snowflake, such changes were slow in coming.
Snowflake began his life in Barcelona in a barren concrete enclosure-and the worst of it… was that he was alone.
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