Meet Hobbit, Hercules, Harshit, Hector, Kito and Kidame – the newest arrivals at Wild Place Project.
The six new inhabitants are gelada baboons – an all-male group that have arrived from Zurich in Switzerland. The troop are now settling into their new, purpose-built enclosure called Gelada Rocks, in the Edge of Africa exhibit.
Gelada Rocks offers visitors the chance to visit a new corner of Wild Place which was previously not open to the public.
The gelada range in age from six (Kito) to 14 years old (Hobbit). At their previous home they lived in separate families but within the same large troop, and as such are now forming a new hierarchy in their new group at Wild Place Project.
Senior animal keeper, Toby Sandman, explains: “Our six new gelada are a really impressive and exciting addition to Wild Place Project. The Gelada is a complex and challenging species to look after and a lot of hard work has gone into the planning, design and build of the new Gelada Rocks enclosure. They are fascinating animals to watch and we are sure they will be a great hit with our guests.”
He added: “Gelada Rocks is designed to be as immersive an experience as possible for guests. It is a visually barrier-free exhibit which invites guests into an exhibit designed to reflect the gelada’s native Ethiopian habitat. It includes a bouldering wall, an ‘abandoned’ safari car and an explorer’s field station, with a ‘discovery area’, an indoor viewing space and picnic areas.”
Before opening to the public, the animals had two weeks to get to know their new home. Throughout this time they have been closely monitored by keepers and vets to ensure they are settling in well and bonding well as a newly established group.
The external paddock area consists of grassland, boulders, rocky outcrops and trees, to provide shade, secluded areas and plenty of grass for the animals to graze. The indoor gelada house is fully insulated and includes central heating. It is able to accommodate more than twice the existing number of animals and has four separate areas enabling keepers to separate the animals when required.
Although often referred to as gelada baboons, these monkeys are not true baboons, but can be easily recognised by the cape of long hair over the shoulders of the males and the bright red skin on the chest of both sexes which turns a brighter red when the females are in oestrus. It is because of this feature that gelada are sometimes known as the bleeding heart baboon.
Males grow to around 75cm in length, weighing around 20kg (44lbs), and females to 65cm and up to 16kg (35lbs). They are the last surviving species of a once widespread group of grass-grazing primates.
In the wild, geladas live in the mountains of Ethiopia, sleeping at night on ledges on the steep cliff faces. They are protected from the extreme cold of their mountain habitat by the characteristic cape of thick fur.