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Multitasking during colder temperatures

The days might finally be getting longer, but those temperatures are still on the chilly side, and here at Zoo Atlanta this gives us unique opportunities to do a little bit more “housekeeping” when the gorillas spend the colder days in their behind-the-scenes indoor areas. Hi, I’m Sara Fee, Senior Keeper on the Gorilla Care Team, part of the Primate Team, here to tell you about some of the extra projects we keepers do during the colder months, when it’s just too darn cold for the animals to get outside. For the health and safety of the animals, we have specific temperature parameters for when animals can and should be outdoors.

As you probably know, Atlanta likes to fully embrace all the seasons, and the full range of temperature that vary during those seasons, from 98-degree days with 98% humidity to the “feels like 17” temperature that was just last week. These temperature guidelines are scientifically based, as well as animal preference based, and are species specific, so what works for our gorillas might not be the same for any other species in the Zoo. On the days when the “feels like” temperature falls outside of those parameters, we keep the gorillas nice and comfy inside in our temperature-controlled building with lots of fun enrichment and their favorite treats. Now, when they are inside, it means we have the opportunity to access their outdoor habitats for some sprucing up!

What do these extra projects look like? Depending on the season, it can mean pressure-washing the structures built in the habitats, doing a full raking of leaves and other loose material, most of which we have provided to the gorillas for nesting, or we can do additional large enrichment projects. The long vines strung from trees to logs to structures in Habitat 3? You guessed it, done by keepers! We might also take the time to update safety aspects of the habitats, such as digging out the moats of dirt and debris, or replacing all the fencing that helps protects the trees. We can’t do these projects when gorillas are out in those habitats for safety reasons, and we don’t like keeping them inside if we don’t need to. Thankfully our gorillas prefer the weather like I do, sunny in the 70s, so on those colder day, they have no problem spending that time inside with their families, while we get to work on the extra projects or maintenance issues.

Being an animal care professional is often about thinking creatively, multitasking, and being flexible on a day to day (sometimes minute to minute) basis, and there are always project items that we need to fit in our already full days.  While the weather can keep us on our toes during the changing seasons, we must be able to quickly reorganize what our whole day might look like, with the gorillas as our number one priority.  

(Photo: Sara Fee)

Sara Fee
Senior Keeper, Gorillas

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