Zoo researchers are impressed with the final outcome, which wasn't easy to achieve. Unlike monkeys, apes are not extremely active animals, and much of their social interaction is subtle -- a cut of the eyes, a flick of the hand or an annoyed cough.
"People always expect them to be like monkeys, who do run around," said Lori Perkins, conservation biologist with the zoo's Conservation Action Resource Center (ARC). "The Georgia Tech researchers certainly could have gone in that direction. They could have made a cartoon gorilla. But the whole point was to make it realistic."
Students using the virtual reality system will be transported into the zoo's Habitat 3 with a typical gorilla family. In reality, this habitat is the home of Willie B, a 439-lb silverback male, and his family -- Kinyani, Shamba, the pregnant Mia Moja, Choomba and her 2-year-old infant Kudzoo.
The students will assume the role of a juvenile gorilla who becomes restless in the company of an adult male and an adult female, both of whom are resting contently. The male will rebuke an annoying or aggressive approach. Females are more tolerant and will accept a meek approach as an invitation for grooming.
The juvenile, who is at the bottom of the hierarchy, will always back down from a fight.
"The best way for kids to understand gorilla behavior is to become a gorilla," said Kyle Burks, a Conservation ARC research associate. "This experience is probably the closest we could come in the world to doing that."
Dr. Rita McManamon, Zoo Atlanta's senior vice president of veterinary services and director of the Conservation ARC, agreed.
"This project represents a powerful educational tool," she said.
"The partnership of advanced technological capabilities and accurate
behavioral information from zoo researchers can allow children to truly
experience the dynamic social world of these fascinating crea
Contact: Amanda Crowell
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News