Here are the Zoo, everything we keepers do is for the animals. We try to make decisions based on their personalities, diet requirements, and behaviors based on their species. I work with gorillas, and a main part of my day involves making sure that our intelligent apes have something to preoccupy their busy minds. We do a lot of what we call enrichment here at the Zoo. This could be an activity or item that elicits a natural behavior. A natural behavior for a gorilla would be foraging, or using their brains to solve a problem.
One specific type of enrichment that is my personal favorite is called “re-propping.” We have all kinds of furniture (firehose, hammocks, plastic toys) and nesting material in the gorilla night house. Each bedroom is “propped” specifically for that gorilla. For example, one of our bachelors, Willie B. , Jr., likes to sleep in a large nest. To help facilitate his nesting behavior, we give him a very large trough that supports the hay he uses to nest in (leaving him with what looks like a giant bird’s nest). When we prop an animal’s night area, we keep in mind the animal’s personal preference, how their species behaves naturally, and any kind of medical or physical limitations that they might have. While it is a massive undertaking (and requires construction skills I did not know I had), we try to re-prop the gorillas’ night areas two to three times a year.
My most recent project has been re-propping the “little bachelors’” area. The little bachelors are Mbeli (who isn’t so little anymore), Gunther and Kal. While Mbeli is a silverback, Kal and Gunther are still in the goofy juvenile phase. They are super active, love displaying (or showing off) on different props, and climbing. Because they are so active, I decided to have a lot of structures that they could climb, display, and swing on. Also, while gorillas are mostly terrestrial, recent studies have shown that they do display a lot more climbing in the wild than previously thought. Because this is a natural behavior that we want to encourage, I wanted to include “travel paths” where they could traverse the entire dayroom without touching the ground if they wanted to. Kal also likes to sleep up high, so I made sure to include his favorite half barrel where he likes to make his nest.
Watching them enjoy the fruits of my labor is worth all the work that went into it. As a keeper, it is always encouraging to see your animals having a blast on something that took you multiple hours up on a ladder to put up. If you ever want to see Mbeli, Gunther and Kal, they can be found in Habitat 4!
Keeper I, Primates