Last week, we discussed all of the yummy and fun things that we do as keepers to enrich our gorillas when it comes to mealtime. But what else do we do for them besides offering food-based enrichment?
Exhibit rotation and "furniture" and toy rotation are something that we do every day. Our gorillas have a lot of different spaces available to them, especially in the summer. We have their large, indoor exhibit area we call the dayroom, their outdoor yard, the new Gorilla Treeway, six large off-exhibit indoor areas, and a quiet, off-exhibit yard that they enjoy a great deal. Each day, our different groups of gorillas are shifted between spaces at least 2 to 3 times, and sometimes more than that. This enables us to re-enrich the area they're being shifted into and allows them to move around more. Some days, we offer up several spaces to them at the same time so that they have even more options. We also can move around the firehose and nets within these spaces, creating new areas to hang or climb on. And the same goes for their hanging toys or big pieces of plastic furniture—we try to rotate these around as often as possible so that they have new things to sit on or play with.
We also like to offer up different types of bedding. You'll see the gorillas nesting in straw, woodwool, sheets and even craft paper, paper towels or boxes. Sometimes, we sprinkle or spray different scents in their bedding or throughout their exhibit just for fun. The gorillas enjoy seeking out the different smells.
Cardboard boxes are one of the easiest and and most inexpensive gorilla toys out there. Our gorillas love using them to display with and and love ripping them up and making a huge mess. You'll almost always see cardboard boxes in with our gorillas.
Despite the great strides we take to provide our gorillas with lots of options, yummy treats, training opportunities and different toys, they do spend a great deal of time lounging around and doing a whole lot of nothing. This often causes people to ask us if our gorillas are bored, and so I like to explain gorilla behavior to our guests to help them understand what motivates gorillas. In the wild, a gorilla only has a few basic jobs. They need to protect and defend their territory, find some food to eat, and breed. When they aren't engaged in one of these activities, they are sleeping or resting to conserve their energy for when they will need to do one of these things.
The same goes for our gorilla friends at the Zoo. Most of their day is spent conserving energy. So you might be lucky to catch them in the mood to play or eat, but more than likely they will just be relaxing when you visit the Zoo. Regardless of what activity they are engaged in during your next visit, take a look around and see if you can spot some of the different enrichment items (or remnants of them) that I talked about this week and last!
By Samantha Nestor, Primate Keeper