Little Gorilla Celebrates 1st Birthday

A big, ice cake-filled birthday bash filled the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s gorilla habitat Thursday as the smallest member celebrated her first birthday.

Little Joanne had a hard welcome to the world a year ago. Born via emergency C-section, she was treated for both a collapsed lung and pneumonia within her first week. But under the watchful eye of zoo caretakers, she recovered and was reintroduced to her troop at the Gorilla Forest.

Thursday morning, Joanne rode in like a queen on her mother Imani’s back. But when the older gorilla became distracted by a peanut butter-smeared toy, the 1-year-old jumped down and went for a Joanne-sized ice cake, made of oranges, orange juice, pureed yams and sweet potatoes. Another, larger cake was shared among the rest of the troop.

"When the gorillas arrived outside to the party area, the first thing they all went for is the cupcakes, and those are made with ground-up yams and different fruits and vegetables, and they love those," said Animal Care Manager Peggy Sexton.

Caretakers spared no effort in making sure this was a special birthday. A volunteer created a cardboard doll house for the little gorilla, and the grassy yard was filled with gift boxes. Inside, the animals found some of their favorite treats: sunflower seeds, peanuts, fruit slices and vegetable.

The zoo says scattering the gifts help encourage the gorillas to forage for their own food, and Joanna could be spotted foraging on her own, eating flowers and plant trimmings.

The youngster has become a rambunctious part of the gorilla habitat. She often runs and plays with the other troop members, especially 3-year-old Monroe and 6-year-old Frank. While Imani is protective of her little girl, she’ll let Frank hold her from time to time, the zoo says. Monroe plays the part of an obnoxious older brother, poking and prodding Joanne and then running away.

Joanne still gets most of her nutrition from nursing, but she has started to mimic her mother’s foraging, taking an interest in what Imani eats. She’s taken a special liking to kale and grapes.

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