Describe a typical day in the life of a gorilla keeper at Taronga Zoo
Working with the gorillas always makes for a busy day! After an early start, we check the gorillas to make sure everyone is well. It is always interesting to see where they are sleeping as we can learn a lot about the group social dynamics from where they are resting in the morning. Then we get ready for the day by cleaning the dens and setting up fresh food, enrichment, fresh branches and new straw or wood wool.
Gorillas in the wild would naturally forage for food at different times throughout the day while resting, playing and teaching their young in between. With this in mind, we spread out their feeds and use enrichment feeders to keep their feeds different and interesting. Gorillas respond very well to novel items so we present their food in different ways to encourage foraging and problem solving as well as to keep them mentally stimulated.
Our gorillas participate in training on husbandry behaviours, such as presenting hands, feet and turning around so we can see their back to ensure they are fit and healthy.
What do you love most about your job?
There are so many interesting aspects of working as a Zoo Keeper. I especially enjoy learning about each animal’s ecology, species specific behaviours and the personalities in each group.
In particular, I find animal behaviour very interesting; it inspires me to provide dynamic and challenging enrichment for the primates. This can be tricky as they all have very different behaviours, needs and capabilities.
To make the exhibit inviting and challenging, we have developed new puzzles from things like frisbees using food as the prize. We make things like mesh cubes filled with food, tube feeders and ice blocks. It is very rewarding to see the gorillas take interest in and engage with the enrichment items we provide. We often hear them grumbling in excitement as they watch us set up the exhibit.
What challenges are gorillas facing in the wild?
There are many issues that gorillas face in the wild. One of the biggest issues is mining. Gorilla habitat is being mined for a mineral ore called coltan to be used in mobile phones. Phones are obviously in high demand, which means gorillas and many other animals are losing their forest homes and food sources at an alarming rate.
The Taronga Foundation and The Jane Goodall Institute help slow the demand for coltan through a recycling program called They’re Calling on You. The campaign provides visitors with an easy way to recycle their old phones. You can pick up a reply paid satchel or print off a prepaid label from our website. The phones are refurbished or parts recycled and the money raised goes back to support wild populations. More info on that here: http://taronga.org.au/how-you-can-help/take-positive-action/mobile-phone-recycling-program-–-we-need-your-phones