'Anti-Social' Gorilla Gets a Fresh Start in a New Home

Patrick, a 430-pound silverback gorilla, sits in the Dallas Zoo on June 18, 2013. (Courtesy of the Dallas Zoo)

A silverback gorilla at the Dallas Zoo who got a reputation for being "anti-social" is getting a chance to start with a clean slate, thanks to some caring zookeepers who scouted a new home for him.

Patrick, a 23-year-old gorilla who spent the last 18 years of his mostly solitary life in Dallas, is moving this October to the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia, S.C., officials said.

Patrick, who was born at the Bronx Zoo in 1990 and was abandoned by his mother, has had a difficult time developing solid relationships with other gorillas, though he gets along well with his handlers, zoo officials said.

While the 430-pound gorilla is not a threat, he behaves with indifference towards other gorillas, especially females, according to Dallas Zoo supervisor Keith Zdrojewski. Patrick interacts better with humans and maintains great relationships with them, he said.

"He tries to get the keepers to chase him around," Zdrojewski said. "He's one of the best trained gorillas we've ever seen. He enjoys the interaction, he enjoys it very much."

When Patrick observes other gorillas from behind a screen, he responds positively since it reduces his stress, Zdrojewski said. "There's something about being with gorillas in the same room that's a problem," he said.

John Davis, curator of mammals at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, said that Patrick's transition to a new environment should not be problematic for the gorilla.

"Gorillas, like people, are all different," Davis said. "We put them in what is evaluated as the best social context and facilities for them. The process of accepting Patrick is not uncommon [in] moving gorillas."

Staff members from the Dallas Zoo will accompany Patrick during the transfer so that he is comforted by familiar faces, Davis said. Once Patrick arrives at his new habitat, he will be tested and evaluated to ensure that he adapts positively.

"We will only expose Patrick to new changes in his environment based on the rate at what he can handle and what he's comfortable with," David said. "Staff members will expose him to the other gorillas in a controlled dose."

Kristen Lukas, chair of the Gorillas Species Survival Plan for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said that determining gorilla psychology is more difficult than assessing human psychology. Patrick's behavior issues are believed to be a result of his early experiences.

"Gorillas who have experienced long periods of hand-rearing or time spent with humans in the past can have more difficult time socializing with other gorillas as adults," she said.

Several zoos worked together during the last few years to help plan Patrick's move, Lukas said. The decision to move Patrick to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden was made in the interest of improving his ability for success.

"We try very hard not to label a gorilla as difficult," she said. "I would never label him as difficult, just a gorilla that needs a different opportunity to be his best self."

The Dallas Zoo will host a "We'll Miss Ya, Patrick" celebration for Patrick on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 28 and 29.