Gelada Mix and Match

Introducing animals to each other is never easy as we cannot be sure how they will react.

This is especially true of animals with complex social systems; in the wild, age, sex, pair bonds, family lineages and social hierarchies all play a part in determining who gets on with whom.  Geladas, one of Ethiopia’s endemic primates, have an especially complex social system.  Females make up the core of a troop and all the females are related.  They are grandmothers, mothers, daughters, aunts and sisters.  It is the females who choose the alpha male, who will guard, lead and mate with them.

Thus, when a female gelada is taken out of her troop, by some unthinking human who thinks she would make a nice “pet”, it means she is also taken away from her family.  The chances of her being successfully rehabilitated are very small, as no other family will accept her.

The only option we at Born Free have, when we receive orphaned female geladas, is to try to form a mini-troop from unrelated females, and this is what we attempted yesterday.  Lily has been in our care since August last year. She has been living alongside Harbert, a male gelada. Then in January, we received Goshi, who had been confiscated by the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority from a man who was seen walking her down the street.  Once Goshi’s quarantine period was completed, it was time to see if Lily would accept her.

Goshi © BFF / SB

Goshi © BFF / SB

We put Goshi in a travel box and then encouraged Lily into a separate travel box.  The two geladas could see each other but could not interact.  While they were squeaking at each other, we cleaned and scrubbed out Lily’s enclosure.  We wanted to remove as much of her scent as possible and to try to create something of a new environment so when the two were actually in contact Lily would not instantly feel Goshi was in her “home”; it would be new for both.  Finally, we put down a deep bed of cut grass which forms the basis of a gelada’s diet.

We let Goshi out first.  She just clung to one of the female carers, obviously very nervous.  Once Lily was free, Goshi climbed down and almost immediately they started grooming.  Goshi was still tense but soon she began making the happy noises so characteristic of geladas.  Lily groomed her and then Goshi returned the favour.  It all went very easily.

We left them that night, huddled together adjacent to Harbert.  The two females have clearly accepted each other and they clearly like him.  All of which bodes very well for a successful future release; they can become their own little troop.

Goshi grooming Lily © BFF / SB

Goshi grooming Lily © BFF / SB

Goshi still grooming © BFF / SB

Goshi still grooming © BFF / SB

Goshi being groomed © BFF / SB

Goshi being groomed © BFF / SB

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2 comments on “Gelada Mix and Match

  1. Wow, this is great – what an easy introduction – let’s hope it stays that way. How many females would need to be in a troop before one of them becomes the alpha and goes for male? Sure would not like to think of Goshi and Lily fighting over Harbert!

  2. bornfree on said:

    Hi Dana, thanks for your comment – Stephen Brend, Project Director at Ensessakotteh has come back with the following in response to your query: “8 adult females is a large harem; four is average but three or two adult females is not unknown. The advantage of a bigger harem is more watchful eyes on the lookout for predators, and more ‘muscle’ to elbow the groups way to the best feeding sites. The disadvantage of a big harem is that the dominant male can not pay equal attention to all the females. Therefore, some may be attracted away by a rival male. In our case, if we knew the three (Harbert, Lily and Goshi) had formed a stable group we could attempt release. The most important thing would be for the two females to stick together. It would only be natural for another male to depose Harbert at some point, but that is less of a problem. He can go off and join a bachelor group or even live by himself. If the group fractured however, and left one of the females alone, they would be easy prey. So the bond between Lily and Goshi is critical to what happens next, but so far so good. Just last night I watched them all huddled up sleeping alongside each other. Thank you for your support!”

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