After this week’s storm, I thought this would be an appropriate time to address a question we get pretty frequently. People often wonder what temperature guidelines we adhere to for the gorillas. Generally speaking, gorillas can be kept outside at temperatures between 50 and 90 degrees. However, gorillas are pretty hearty and these temperatures aren’t written in stone. As long as we use our judgment and common sense, we can be pretty lenient with those requirements. For example, there’s a big difference between 50 degrees and raining, and a bright and sunny 50 degrees, just as a dry 90 is more comfortable than an oppressively humid 85 degrees.
None of our gorillas have any health concerns to take into consideration, whereas across the building, our female orangutan Tua has a history of respiratory illness, so we must be conscious of that and are much more conservative with her. On the other hand, we generally won’t keep the gorillas out on extremely hot days. With that being said, there is much more tree cover and shade out in the new Gorilla Treeway, so we’ll be able to take that into consideration. Often, we’ll also provide the gorillas with frozen treats or chilled sheets to cool them off. Sometimes we set up a hose mister for them as well, although some of the gorillas like that more than others!
Outside of those guidelines, we can give the gorillas “access” when the temperatures are too extreme for them to be kept out. That means that we leave a door open, allowing them to come into the heat or air conditioning as they wish. There are no temperature restrictions when it comes to giving access; we just use our judgement and common sense. The gorillas simply won’t go out if it is 20 degrees out, so there isn’t a lot of point in giving them access. When it snows, if it is too deep for us to confirm that the yard is safe to send the gorillas out, then we’ll keep them in, but if we've just gotten a light dusting, we can offer them access. Much to my dismay, our gorillas really don’t care for snow (I love snow and have always wanted a gorilla who enjoyed romping around in it).
When the gorillas are outside and it rains, as long as it isn’t a driving rain storm and/or too chilly for them, we’ll leave them out. If it becomes heavy or starts to thunder and lighting, we bring them in. With that being said, some of our gorillas really don’t enjoy being out in the rain (remember Louis’ quirk about hating for his hands and feet to get dirty?), so it’s often tough to get them to shift outside if it is already raining out. Access tends to be just what the doctor ordered for them on a rainy day, and they can choose whether they want to go outside or stay in.
One of Honi’s favorite pastimes is to sit on the shelf just outside of the dayroom and watch the rain fall. I call it her front porch, and when she’s sitting out there the balcony above her acts as an awning so she doesn’t get wet. Some of the best days to come to the Zoo are on days with rain or snow in the forecast! It generally keeps many visitors away, but often many of the animals are still out. So consider coming to visit us on the next not-so-beautiful day!
By Kristen Farley-Rambo, Primary Gorilla Keeper