Santa Fe Teaching Zoo throws its gibbons a birthday party

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With arms longer than she is tall and a quarantine baby strapped to her belly, Cajun reaches into a large green box, pulls out a fistful of birthday cake and waddles off, Sasquatch style.

Her partner Eddie hoots and hollers above her, demanding the spotlight as he swings like a pendulum on a rope atop their home at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.

Born 10 years and three days before his mate, Eddie alternates between ripping open presents and throwing around birthday cards as fans watched on a livestream.

It’s his 40th birthday party, and he’ll act any way he wants.

The zoo held a birthday party Wednesday for the white-handed gibbons. Cajun turned 30 that day, and Eddie, who has been at the zoo since 1982, turned 40 on Sunday.

“If you’ve visited us over the last 40 years, you probably know Eddie,” zookeeper Jade Salamone said. “He is always front and center”

The pair were given colorful birthday cards made over the weekend by zoo visitors and presented boxes with special low sugar, ape-safe cake inside. The event was witnessed live YouTube, and zoo staff plan to upload a captioned video of the event this week.

White-handed gibbons are one of a few types of apes that bond with their mates for life, Salamone said. Eddie and Cajun have been together since 2003 and have four children: Gibson, 6, Holmes, 3, Cusa, 1, and an infant who was born July 18 and hasn’t been named yet. The youngest two are both still nursing, Salamone said.

Another zookeeper, Adriana Galeano, praised Eddie and Cajun as being good parents.

“They love spending time together,” Galeano said.

Every morning, Eddie performs a whooping song that sounds like a low-pitched slide whistle to establish his territory. Cajun later joins in, and the two sing a duet that can be heard all the way on Santa Fe’s  main campus.

“Scientists think that they might actually use that call to strengthen their bond,” Salamone said.

As exciting as it was for guests to celebrate Eddie and Cajun’s special day, the birthday party served an important purpose for the gibbons’ wellbeing.

To mirror the behaviors and activities zoo animals would normally take part in the wild, zookeepers provide them with “enrichment” opportunities, Galeano said.

These opportunities can be as simple as hiding their food around their habitat to encourage foraging or as over-the-top as the birthday bash. Providing enrichment keeps the animals entertained and deters problem behaviors that tend to crop up among animals in captivity.

The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and general admission is $8, though the zoo offers a range of discounts to students, military, healthcare workers and more.

“Whether people believe it or not, our guests are enriching to our animals as well,” Salamone said. “We encourage everyone to come.”

About Kaelyn Cassidy

Kaelyn is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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