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.
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.