The Lesser Ape

 Safari Niagara received its first Siamangs in January of 2005. Jogog, at the age of two, and his father, Gog, one of the most spectacular Siamang specimens I have ever seen. Long, thick, shiny fur, broad shoulders, and the kindest eyes I have witnessed on any animal. 

Such an honour to work in the presence of this species. Their family dynamic is unusual, as males play a more significant role in rearing their offspring. After only 9 months of being with the mother, the males are seen with infants throughout the day and night; the baby visiting mom only to nurse. 

Safari Niagara is home to the world’s largest collection of Siamangs; giving staff an opportunity to study not only territorial behaviours but how young learn to become adults, rear their young and simply flourish. 

It is my experience that 98% of all births arrive after a three (3) year interbirth. Sexes are rotated with male and female births alternated. Unless troops are in proximity, as is our experience at Safari Niagara, male births outnumber the female births. 

The infant spends the first nine months with mom, the next nine months with dad and the remaining portion being babysat by siblings. Watching one of the siblings babysit while mom and dad are on the other side of the exhibit is an amazing sight. The sheer diligence the sibling must have to try and not only keep the infant entertained, but to do his/her part and not let his/her little brother or sister bother mom or dad while learning independence. 

Siamang infants will take up to 5 years to learn how to care for their young in preparation for their time to parent once they leave the family unit and are in search of a lifelong partner. Working with Siamangs that have not been prepared for parenting is challenging as they tend to leave the infant, not knowing what to do with it. Many institutions will pull the infant in hopes of hand rearing which in turn breaks this cycle of learning even more. Safari Niagara has had great success with removing infants for feeding, and offering them back to the parents. Parents take the infant back and the process is repeated until the parents understand their role. Patience, time, and diligence allows for natural parenting behaviours and future success stories. 

As the infant matures, at the age of three they begin to learn how to use their air sacs as a form of communication, letting other troops know they are in the area and are protecting their territory. Males and females both possess very different calls and will often “sing” in unison. Their calls can be heard up to two kilometres away. 

I have observed grown men cry when in the presence of these calls. The sounds magnify as Safari Niagara’s 6 troops begin their territorial ritual. Sheer amazement at the intensity, simply mesmerizing, creating the feeling of being under a canopy in the rain forest. 

Siamangs possess an ecological importance in their wild habitats. They are seed dispersers. While consuming their favourite fruits, once eaten they will defecate seeds, dispersing them throughout their home range allowing their favourite food source the opportunity to replenish. 

Living in areas of our world with the highest rates of deforestation puts wild siamang populations at risk. Siamangs have had to learn to adapt to our ever-changing world. The pet trade has also contributed to decreasing wild populations. Sadly, mothers are killed and her offspring are taken and sold. 

Safari Niagara has and will continue to provide homes for Gibbon species that have been confiscated from the illegal sales of the pet trade. 

As advocates of the natural world, Safari Niagara’s dedication to the preservation of wildlife is paramount. Studying captive species, sharing valuable research and supporting wildlife conservation projects creates an importance for the existence of accredited zoos and aquariums globally. 

Lana Borg –Animal Care Manager