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A Day in the Life of a Gorilla Keeper, Part 1

09/18/2015

I’ve enjoyed telling you all about some of the behind the scenes stuff that goes on with our gorillas.  This week, I thought I’d tell you what a day in the life of a gorilla keeper looks like!

Let’s start with our basic schedule and routine. We start our day at 8:15 (8:00 during the winter), and the first thing I do is go back to say good morning to the gorillas and check on everyone. I get their food for the day together, then prep and administer their meds (Motuba gets medication for cardiovascular disease, the girls are currently on birth control, and everyone gets a vitamin).

Then it’s a race against the clock to get all of the gorillas on exhibit (with the addition of the trail, I now have three exhibits to service—the yard, the trail and the dayroom). This is one of the more stressful parts of my day, because an hour isn’t a lot of time to do all of this, particularly if the gorillas made a mess the day before! Our official requirement is that we get at least one gorilla group (either the family group, or one of our boys) on exhibit by 9:30 when the Zoo opens to the public, but I know that the visitors want to see as many gorillas as they can, so I do my best to get everyone up as early as I can!
 
While I’m setting up the exhibits, all of the gorillas are separated in their bedrooms downstairs with their first feeding, typically some chow. Once finished cleaning, I’ll scatter some produce in each exhibit for whomever will be spending the morning in there. Once everyone is on exhibit, I generally spend the rest of my morning cleaning their bedrooms, with another feeding thrown in there at some point for everyone (usually chow, or a snack like honey or sunflower seeds). After I’m done cleaning and before I break for lunch, I switch all of the gorillas around to different spaces. This also means a second produce feeding for the gorillas. This is a fun and challenging aspect for me, because moving five gorillas around using four general spaces (three exhibits and their bedrooms) is like completing a big puzzle. Additionally, because they each have their own idea of their favorite place to hang out, they don’t always cooperate! 

After lunch, I prepare the gorilla diets for the following day. We have a commissary staff that brings us a bulk delivery of food, and the keepers are responsible for chopping it up and divvying it out for the animals the following day. Once done with that, it’s usually time for an afternoon snack (browse, or more chow), or a training session out on the trail. We have a keeper talk at 2:30 too, and each of the keepers has a day (or two) that we are responsible for covering. 

I start shifting gorillas around again sometime after 3:30 or 4:00 to feed them dinner (more produce, and any remaining chow from earlier) and get them set up in their overnight quarters.  This is the time that we do most of our training—because their bedrooms are only one of two places that we can separate all of the gorillas, we like to work with them down there so that we can focus on training one gorilla without worrying about a dominant animal coming and displacing a subordinate one.  hen the Zoo closes at 5:00 (4:00 in the winter), so it’s lights out and goodnight gorillas! 

That is what a typical day looks like for me. The thing about zookeeping, however, is that most days are far from typical! Stay tuned for more about a day in the life of a gorilla keeper, where I’ll talk about some of the hiccups we often encounter on any given day.

Kristen Farley-RamboBy Kristen Farley-Rambo, Primary Gorilla Keeper