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Welcoming Leena and Takeze: How we introduced new gelada into our bachelor group

Posted on: 4 April, 2024

Since 2016, Bristol Zoo Project has been home to a group of four male geladas, Hobbit (22), Harshit (16), Kito (14), and Kidame (14).

Two geleda sitting on a rock looking at each other. One has its mouth open.

Native to Ethiopia’s highlands, in the wild they live in complex multi-level societies, sometimes forming large herds of up to 1,200 individuals.

These are some of the largest groups observed among any primates and can be formed because they are the last surviving species of primate to primarily eat grass, which is widely available. Known as ‘shuffle-feeders,’ geladas don’t stand up to eat, instead they shuffle along on their bottoms to reach different patches of grass.

In January, we were excited to welcome two new geladas to our group here at Bristol Zoo Project; father and son Leena (13) and Takeze (5), who arrived from Howletts Wild Animal Park in Canterbury.

Senior Animal Keeper Sam Matthews and Animal Keeper Sophie Chun worked with the pair for a couple of days at Howletts before they were safely put into separate travel crates for the 196-mile journey to Bristol Zoo Project. Sam and Sophie accompanied them and then helped them to acclimatise to their new habitat and the rest of the animal team.

Introducing any new animals into an existing group is a gradual process which must be taken at their pace. After arriving on January 25, keepers began to slowly introduce the new males to our group, off-show from visitors, giving them a chance to meet in a controlled environment with keeper support.

After almost two weeks, we began mixing the geladas in pairs, inside, starting with Hobbit and Kidame, which was positively relaxed. The mixing in pairs continued for around two weeks indoors, and when the team decided that they were happy enough being in each other’s company, we went ahead with a short full group mix with the six of them still inside.

On this occasion the group showed no interest in mixing all together in one room, so it was another positively uneventful encounter! Leena and Takeze were then given access to the main outside area to allow them the opportunity to get used to the outdoor space before we took the plunge and let them all outside together.

Gelada males are larger and hairier than females. The leader male is dominant to all other members of his family unit but is eventually replaced by a younger rival and this happens within bachelor groups also. The fights during these replacements can be vicious and noisy.

On February 20, we gave the full group access to the outside area of their habitat together and this is when things got a little more interesting, with space to properly interact and see each other all at the same time.

There was a lot of vocalising and chasing with new arrival Leena leading most of it. Our animal team kept a close eye on the group for the duration of this mixing session to monitor behaviours and ensure all the animals remained safe as they began to establish their new hierarchy in this territory. They remained together for a good few hours before being separated off again.

Geladas often pair off with a “best friend” within groups and introducing a new pair to the established group here at Bristol Zoo Project has changed the group dynamic quite a bit. New arrivals Leena and Takeze have bonded well with previous pair Harshit and Kito, whilst Hobbit and Kidame have now been temporarily pushed to the outskirts of the group as they redefine their hierarchical rank.

However, Hobbit and Kidame are still sticking together. As the eldest member of the group, Hobbit remains respected by the rest and stays out of the way when the chasing is happening, but he has been seen to back Kidame up when required. It is safe to say that Hobbit has had more exercise since the new boys have arrived, which has had a positive effect on his overall health.

Sophie Chun, animal keeper at Bristol Zoo Project said: “The geladas have settled in well and made themselves at home very quickly here at Bristol Zoo Project and we are extremely pleased with how well the integration of Leena and Takeze has gone.

"We are confident the group will establish the hierarchy status in a way that enables them to live in harmony within their habitat, which is designed to replicate the Ethiopian highlands where they are found in the wild.”

Our animal team work tirelessly to ensure that the well-being and welfare of our animals is our top priority and their knowledge and understanding of the species, as well as individuals, is crucial in situations such as integrations.

As a conservation and education charity, we work to conserve three other primate species in the wild, the Critically Endangered western lowland gorilla, Critically Endangered blue-eyed black lemur and Endangered Sanje mangabey. Gaining knowledge and experience of primates here at Bristol Zoo Project is imperative to the work we do around the world in protecting species that are under threat.