They’re an odd couple, but Samantha the gorilla and Panda the rabbit are making the relationship work. The two were introduced by Erie Zoo officials who felt the elderly gorilla needed a companion.
Samantha, a 47 year-old western lowland gorilla has lived without a buddy since the death of her mate Rudy, in 2005. Officials at the Pennsylvania zoo were concerned that Samantha was lonely, but worried she was too old and fragile to be paired with another gorilla. So last month they introduced her to a Dutch rabbit, named Panda.
Reports from the zoo indicate that Samantha and Panda are getting along famously. Samantha has been seen gently scratching under the bunny’s chin, sharing her food and reaching out to softly touch Panda.
Samantha, who was hand-raised by humans, has always had a gentle nature.
“To have something sharing their space that they can observe and interact with is always going to be beneficial,” said Zoo Director Cindy Kreider.
Still zookeepers were a little nervous when the two were first introduced. They began slowly by moving Panda into an area close to Samantha’s habitat. Then workers held the rabbit up for the gorilla to inspect. Finally the pair was allowed to meet face to face, although an escape hatch had been built for Panda, just in case.
“Right off the bat, they hit it off,” said Kreider.
Scott Mitchell, the zoo’s Chief Executive is especially amazed at the successful match. He recounted how one day Panda fearlessly hopped up to a beloved stuffed toy gorilla that belongs to Samantha. Typically this would have spelled trouble, but Mitchell said, “Samantha pushed the baby out of the way so Panda could go by.”
Mitchell said the reaction from the public has been very supportive, as well. “People are intrigued by it. They like the fact that she has a companion.”
As for Panda’s response to this new friendship, he is taking it in stride. He hops around the gorilla/rabbit exhibit munching on rabbit food and then returns to Samantha’s corner, to sit with his new best bud.
Photo Credit: randychiu