Enrichment for gorillas from an inspired keeper. There are also some photos here: King Kong merrily on high! Crackers full of raisins. Edible baubles on a tree. But NO sprouts. How Christmas came to Chessington Zoo | Mail Online King Kong merrily on high! Crackers full of raisins. Edible baubles on a tree. But NO sprouts. How Christmas came to Chessington Zoo By Jane Fryer Last updated at 7:45 AM on 21st December 2010 Posing for a Christmassy photo with a gorilla is easier said than done. Even though he’s only a teenager and there’s a thick Perspex wall separating us. Things start badly and rapidly deteriorate. Damisi the silverback sits huddled on a rock, frowning and nibbling a handful of what look suspiciously like gorilla droppings with a huge snort and a monstrous sneeze. Suddenly his side of the Perspex looks rather less appealing. Oh, and that’s before he starts to jump up and down, battering the window with his enormous black fists in a distinctly unfestive manner. One of our group, however, is enchanted. ‘Isn’t he amazing? Isn’t he wonderful? Isn’t he most handsome animal you’ve ever seen?’ says Michael Riozzi, gorilla keeper at Chessington World of Adventures for the past 30 years. ‘There’s something about gorillas. Chimps are very aggressive — they bite, fight and throw poo. Orangutans are really inscrutable — their faces tell you nothing. But gorillas are, well, just gorillas and I adore them.’ So much so that, after eight hours every day feeding them, watering them and cleaning out their gorilla house, Michael dreams about them at night, watches them on his webcam at home, pops in to see them on his days off — and is now busy planning their Christmas festivities with military precision. ‘I always make them a Christmas cake — I have a special secret recipe. They can’t eat sweets or chocolate, so it’s all organic stuff you’d get in a health food shop; sunflower seeds, nuts and raisins and all bound together with honey, with carrots popping out of the top like candles. They love it. ‘And we’ll do presents this year — though sadly there’s no such thing as a gorilla-proof toy, so it’s mostly nuts and raisins. Oh, and maybe a Christmas tree.’ Inside their enclosure? Surely that won’t last long. ‘You’d be surprised. Last year we decorated it with tomatoes and peppers instead of baubles. I thought they’d just pull the tree down and run off with the whole thing, but they were all, “Ooh! What’s that?” and sat picking things daintily off it. I do like to make things festive for them.’ Christmas decorations: The gorillas put the finishing touches to their tree. He won’t be repeating the mistake of two Christmases ago, however, when the gorillas were fed Brussels sprouts — brilliantly rich in vitamin C but, as we all know, rather effective on the digestive system. The results were so malodorous that the gorilla enclosure had to be closed to the public for two days until the air had cleared. ‘It was a nightmare,’ says Michael. ‘They’ll not be getting sprouts this year. Or ever again.’ 'Gorillas are much better behaved than children - there’s no worrying they’re going to go off and get pregnant. And they don’t throw tantrums in supermarkets, do they?’ It’s fair to say that Michael is more than a little obsessed. When he’s not looking after his beloved charges — or baking them Christmas cakes — he’s chatting to other gorilla keepers on Facebook (‘there’s a whole gorilla-keeper world out there’), or flying around the world attending international gorilla-keeper conferences, gorilla-keeper workshops and specialist forums where hundreds of the world’s gorilla keepers meet to discuss gorilla management. ‘I think it’s fair to say I’m obsessed. I’ve never needed a wife or children because this is my family,’ he says with a cheery smile, gesturing through the Perspex at Damisi — who is now charging round the enclosure, enormous shoulders rippling and huge hairy arms lashing out at his resident harem. ‘So when we have a new baby we all go to the pub and wet its head. For the last one we had a three-hour naming ceremony with African drummers and everything. ‘Generally, it’s much easier having gorillas than kids — and very fulfilling. You don’t have to send them to school or buy them clothes or mobile phones or give them pocket money. And gorillas are much better behaved — there’s no worrying they’re going to go off and get pregnant. And they don’t throw tantrums in supermarkets, do they?’ True. But (and maybe it’s the excitement of their imminent gorilla Christmas) they do seem in high spirits. Especially Damisi, who is only 14 years old, but weighs 32 stone, (he’ll be 43 stone when fully grown), possesses the strength of 25 men (despite a vegetarian diet) and is now doing his utmost to smash the place up. 'There’s a woman scientist somewhere who reckons that gorillas only have four personality types — if you ask me, she hasn’t spent enough time with gorillas’ ‘He’s a fabulous person,’ Michael says. ‘We’ve such a good relationship. Though he doesn’t know his own strength — we’re just puny nothings in comparison to gorillas. They don’t realise that — they’ll give you a playful tap and break your jaw, or poke your leg and snap a ligament.’ And does Michael go in the enclosure with them? ‘Sadly not any more — Health and Safety,’ he says, rolling his eyes. ‘But I’d be perfectly safe. I know how to be around them. They’ve got a wonderful sense of humour. ‘There’s a gorilla in Howletts Zoo that used to hide under the straw then jump on the keepers when they went in to find him. ‘Which is funny because there’s a woman scientist somewhere who reckons that gorillas only have four personality types — if you ask me, she hasn’t spent enough time with gorillas.’ Which is certainly not something Michael could be accused of. He has been obsessed with primates for as long as he can remember. His childhood heroes were naturalist Gerald Durrell (‘a lovely man, drunk most of the time and fascinating’) and Sir David Attenborough (‘just wonderful’) Other than a brief stint in his youth as a male model, he has dedicated his life to apes — working with more than 40 species of primates before discovering gorillas. It’s quite a commitment. Michael says: ‘You’re defined by being a gorilla keeper — it’s your heart and soul. Otherwise, why would you do it? ‘The money’s rubbish, wherever you work, but the gorillas make up for everything. The moment I see them, the world doesn’t exist any more. They make me happy, they take everything else away.’ So does he have any primate-free hobbies? ‘Of course! I like Manchester United and I have an English bull terrier called Flora and I go on holidays.’ 'They don’t actually know it’s Christmas. To them it’s just another day in the life of a gorilla. But I know it’s Christmas’ To see gorillas? ‘No. I’ve never seen gorillas in the wild, though I’m hoping to next year. Holidays like normal people have. But wherever I am I always go and visit the local zoo — I know all of the gorillas in the world practically, I’ve visited them so often.’ And when he returns from a trip, he heads straight for Chessington’s gorilla house, even before going home. ‘I like to see that they’re all OK — though to be fair, they never seem to have missed me that much.’ So will his precious charges get any other special festive treats? ‘We always give them crackers.’ Christmas crackers? ‘Of course. We make enormous crackers stuffed with peanuts and raisins and tied with raffia or willow.’ And do they pull them? ‘Don’t be silly — they’re gorillas! They rip them apart and run around with them.’ And with that, he leans close so as not to be overheard by Damisi — who is now waving his fists on the other side of the Perspex — and says: ‘You have to remember, they don’t actually know it’s Christmas. To them it’s just another day in the life of a gorilla. But I know it’s Christmas.’ And, right now, that’s all that matters.