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THE JAKE L. HAMON GORILLA CONSERVATION RESEARCH CENTER
The award-winning Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center is a two-acre reserve within the Dallas Zoo’s 25-acre Wilds of Africa exhibit, designed to allow the Zoo’s lowland gorillas to roam freely in an environment that replicates as closely as possible their native equatorial forest habitat. The Wilds of Africa was designed to provide optimum comfort and safety for the animal inhabitants first, with considerations of human needs built around those requirements. The gorilla exhibit is an outstanding example of the practical application of this philosophy.
Every effort was made to create a space that would encourage the animals to behave as they would in a wild environment. Among the more than 5,000 plants in the exhibit are a variety of “browse plants,” such as blackberry bushes and grapevines, which allow the gorillas to forage for food as they would in their African habitat. Rocky outcroppings and berms, thick grasses, shrubs and trees provide napping places for this shy and reclusive species.
The gorilla center also contains waterways for splashing and drinking, and heated rocks to provide warmth on cold winter days. To ensure as natural a habitat as possible, the center was designed to minimize the gorillas’ interactions with humans and promote their interactions with each other. Two special below-grade viewing bunkers, training windows, observation platforms, and camouflaged viewing blinds allow Zoo visitors to watch the gorillas without disturbing them.
HAMON GORILLA CENTER
Another unique feature of the gorilla center is the Gorilla Research Station, which provides optimum research space for the study of this endangered species. The Research Station was doubled in size during a major renovation project in 2006. Air conditioning and heating were added for greater visitor comfort. The building features windows that are 7 feet tall and 20 feet wide to improve views into the exhibit for visitors and volunteers. Large glass walls in both bunkers feature training windows.
“We think the training window is a really interesting feature for visitors,” said Todd Bowsher, Ph.D., director of animal management. “The gorillas are trained to come to the window and show their hands, feet and other body parts to the keepers for routine health inspections. It’s a great way to see what happens behind the scenes for animal care.”
The outdoor section of the reserve includes two areas, separated by a wall, providing enough room for two troops of animals. If needed in the future, a small portal within the wall can allow juveniles and/or adult females to “migrate” to the other troop.
In keeping with the design criteria, the gorillas’ off-exhibit living space also provides the animals with an environment that promotes natural behaviors and minimizes human contact. The building is an airy, light-filled space covering almost 8,000 square feet. Two large community rooms provide an area for animals to socialize as they would outdoors.
The floors of these two large rooms are covered in natural substrate, and the perimeter of the rooms is covered with tropical indoor plants. Four bedrooms with nesting structures, benches and hay serve as sleeping quarters. The animals can move from room to room through overhead transfer corridors.
A clinic room, research observation area and special scales for weighing the gorillas are also in the indoor facility.
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HAMON GORILLA CENTER
The ultimate goal of the Zoo staff is to keep gorillas outdoors as much as possible. Realizing that there will be times when the animals must be brought inside, however, the staff created the off-exhibit space with the same care, and in keeping with the same philosophy, as the rest of the gorilla center.
The Zoo currently has five lowland gorillas: Patrick, B’wenzi, Juba, Madge, and Shanta.
The Gorilla Research Station is open to the public during Zoo hours. Gorilla Guide volunteers are at the station daily to provide educational information and help visitors learn more about gorillas.
The renovation was partially funded by a $1 million pledge to the Dallas Zoological Society by Nancy Hamon in honor of Mary McDermott Cook who generously allocated $600,000 toward this project. The exhibit first opened in 1990 and cost $3.7 million to build. At that time, Mrs. Hamon provided a $1 million challenge grant in honor of her late husband, Jake L. Hamon, who donated the Zoo’s first two gorillas back in 1957 – Jimmy and Jenny, who was the oldest female gorilla in captivity in the country when she passed away in 2007.
About the Dallas Zoo: The Dallas Zoo, an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, is the largest zoological experience in Texas featuring a 106-acre park, thousands of animals, and an education department that offers programs for all ages. The official airline of the Dallas Zoo is American Airlines. The Zoo is located at 650 S. R.L. Thornton Freeway (I-35 at Marsalis). Admission is $15 for ages 12-64, $12 for ages 3-11 and 65+, and free for ages 2 and younger and Dallas Zoological Society (DZS) members. The Zoo is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, download the free iPhone app, visit DallasZoo.com, or call 469 554 7500.
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