Makaio, the first white-cheeked gibbon to be born at Nashville Zoo, celebrated his first birthday on June 5. Guests have been able to see the young ape explore his outdoor area as he slowly learns how to be more independent. Our primate keepers shared Makaio’s progress and development from his first year!
He is still very dependent on mom, Singwah, as she is his main source of nutrition. White-cheeked gibbons nurse until they’re two years old! Makaio still clings to mom and rides around on her belly most of the time, but Singwah has allowed him to be more independent and explore his surroundings. He climbs trees and runs around on his own now, but Singwah is always close by to monitor and make sure he isn’t getting into trouble. Dad, Paddy, also keeps a very close eye on the young gibbon as he explores.
Guests may remember Makaio being blonde like his mom when he was first born. Around 8 months old, his color started to darken. While he still has a little blonde left, his color will eventually darken to match the black color of his father, Paddy. White-cheeked gibbon babies will change color depending on the sex – females will remain blonde while males are born blonde but get darker as they get older. One thing remains the same though: their white cheeks!
Makaio is very smart and inquisitive. Keepers do operant conditioning training sessions with all of our animals to teach them certain behaviors that assist in their daily and veterinary care. Both of his parents, Singwah and Paddy, are involved in this training program. Makaio has always just watched and hung onto his mom while we trained her. As he started becoming interested in solid food, he also became interested in interacting with keepers. Makaio just recently started his own training program which includes him presenting his tongue and hand on cue to keepers in exchange for his favorite treat, grapes!
As he gets older and more independent, he will learn more complex behaviors and train beside mom instead of hanging off her belly. This training will be a tremendous help to keepers for monitoring his health and troubleshooting any veterinary issues that may arise as he gets older.
Makaio will remain at the Zoo with his parents until he becomes sexually mature, which is typically around 5-7 years old. It is very important to keep him in his family group so he can learn proper gibbon etiquette and also watch his parents raise his siblings. This is how young gibbons learn to be good parents!