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Chessington Zoo Christmas Treats for Gorillas

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Gigit, 21 Dec 2010.

  1. Gigit

    Gigit Well-Known Member

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    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.
     
  2. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    This shows that their main(Damisi) group is still using the original cage as it has the old viewing windows and rock backdrop/waterfall. Its difficult to establish if the new enclosure is finished or if its being used yet.
     
  3. MonkeyGirl86

    MonkeyGirl86 Active Member

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    I've made 20 "crackers" for the chimps and orangs at Colchester Zoo and will be taking them with me tomorrow! They contain dried fruit, nuts and seasonal veg. They were loads of fun to make!!
     
  4. Gigit

    Gigit Well-Known Member

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    Great - I'm sure they'll have as much fun playing with them/eating them as you had making them! And well done, Colchester, for joining in the fun.
     
  5. johnstoni

    johnstoni Well-Known Member

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    I can't help but feel that this guy needs some boundaries. If he became too unwell to work or had to retire, or was made redundant, he would be devastated. At the end of the day, you are working with animals owned, literally, by a large corporation driven largely by profit. While it is fantastically engaging to have such a rewarding job, I think it is healthy not to invest so much of your identity in what you do, and where you do it.

    I am very interested in his answer of 'not any more' when asked if he goes in with the gorillas. Did Chessington for a time mimic Howletts in more than enclosure style? I am not criticising this at all, I think it is a good thing, I'm just intrigued as I wasn't aware this was ever tried at Chessington.
     
  6. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    I was a bit surprised at that comment too. While they may have gone in with Baffia and Kumba when they were youngsters in that dreadful first Apehouse, I don't know that they went in with any of the others, some of which came there as adults from other zoos, but maybe they did with some of them 'out of hours'.

    I think you'll find that article was 'written-up' just for the paper and some of the things mentioned are a little exaggerated. For example, keepers don't spend their time 'flying around the world to Gorilla conferences'- its a lot more occassional than that.
     
    Last edited: 23 Dec 2010
  7. OrangePerson

    OrangePerson Well-Known Member

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    Never let the truth get in the way of a good story!
     
  8. Tarsius

    Tarsius Well-Known Member

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    And I always belived,animals are not beliving in a"God", so they dont't celebrate christmas ....

    Seriously, my personal opinion is, it's ridicolous giving animals in a zoo"christmas"treats or"presents", for what ? They are animals and don't need it....Welcome in Bambi-World....
     
  9. Gigit

    Gigit Well-Known Member

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    Something different as enrichment for both the animals and the keepers? An advertisement for the zoo? I can't see any harm in it.
     
  10. Javan Rhino

    Javan Rhino Well-Known Member

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    Yup, it is just zoos getting into a festive spirit. The enrichment doesn't hurt the animals, so there's no problem :)

    That, and you don't have to be religious to celebrate Christmas. I'm not, and I'm celebrating it :)
     
  11. OrangePerson

    OrangePerson Well-Known Member

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    Babies don't believe in anything either but people buy them presents!

    A treat's a treat in animal world!
     
  12. mazfc

    mazfc Well-Known Member

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    It's animal enrichment - for everyone
     
  13. Meaghan Edwards

    Meaghan Edwards Well-Known Member

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    Enrichment is enrichment is enrichment :)

    I think it's a great idea, and no doubt the keepers have fun with it too :D It's really a thrill seeing animals being enriched, you can almost see them thinking.
     
  14. Tarsius

    Tarsius Well-Known Member

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    @Javan Rhino. Sorry fo the offtopic question, but how you can celebrate tje birth of a" Messias", if you're not beliving in it ? I'm smart enough not to belive in a"God",so I don't celebrate any religious holiday.

    Of course this treats are enrichment, but they should give them to the animals year round, not only at christmas.
     
  15. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

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    I can see the logic in not believing in a god but still celebrating Christmas -remember this time of the year has had celebrations (christian and otherwise) linked to it for years -maybe it's just part of the human psyche to have a celebration at what (weather-wise) can be the bleakest time of the year.

    Enjoying an atmosphere without believing in the cause of that atmosphere is quite plausible -when I was younger I used to go to gigs with friends to "see" bands I didn't have any real interest in -I just liked jumping about like a nutter in the mosh pit for ninety minutes.

    Also, I think people have been a little over-reactive on the "Christmas enrichment" -I'm sure the zoos do practice enrichment all year around, it's just that at Christmas, when there is often little "real news," it's easy to get a little publicity for the zoo by playing up the Christmas angle thereby generating some much needed advertising at a time when fewer people visit.
     
    Last edited: 25 Dec 2010
  16. Javan Rhino

    Javan Rhino Well-Known Member

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    No problem :). Mainly, I celebrate Christmas for different reasons, such as family and, as has been said, the atmosphere. Due to how commercial it is now, I think it is reasonable to be celebrated by anybody without needing the religious attatchment. And let's remember, it is not about the birth of the lord, which supposedly happened around September time. The Christians just wanted to steal another pagan holiday, namely 'Yule/Winter solstice.' I'm not an expert, so don't know if they are the same holiday in the pagan calander, I think they are :)

    And, even though I'm not 'technically' religious, I'm actually more agnostic (I think that still makes me unreligious), but I still agree with most of the Christian messages and stuff :)
     
  17. Gorilla_lady

    Gorilla_lady Member

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    chessington have a no contact policy and are not allowed in with dangerous animals so this is exaggerated or someone is being naughty and going in unauthorised. :confused:
     
  18. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    They are actually quoted as saying they don't go in with them because of health and safety rulings. The implication being more they could if they were allowed to.
     
  19. johnstoni

    johnstoni Well-Known Member

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    Plus, if this was a proper quote, the keeper said they don't go in with them 'any more', which which leads me to believe that, at some point, they did. Whether he is referring the to when the original animals were very young, in the old ape house, or at some point in the early life of the current building, I would be very interested to know.

    Does Damien Aspinall still go in with his gorillas? It really is one of the most amazing things to watch and, as a child, taught me more about great apes in the space of five minutes than I could have hoped to learn from a thousand other great ape exhibits across the world's zoos. One day it will be almost folklore about a zoo in Kent where the owner used to 'play' with the gorillas, people almost won't believe it, I'd be fascinated to learn if Chessington attempted to emulate the Aspinall approach in more than just accommodation.
     
  20. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

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    I never heard of them going in with the Chessington Gorillas, particularly after the original pair, Kumba and Baffia, became adult. Several other Gorillas also formed the foundation of the current group too but most of them (males Kumba 2, Assumbo & females Lomie & Kaja ) came there as 'unfamiliar' adults or immatures. Maybe they did, I don't know.

    Not sure if Damian Aspinall(or anyone there) still goes in with any Gorilla group at Howletts nowdays. He used to go in principally with the 'Kifu' group as Kifu had grown up knowing him and I think was probably 'groomed' so they could carry on the tradition. But I don't think he(or anyone else nowadays) goes in with any other silverback male there now (not 100% certain though). Even John Aspinall could only go in with one or two 'calm' males as adults( e.g Djoum, Kijo) and not with others( Mumbah, Bitam, Djala) which were temperamentally either too rough, or even aggressive. I think most adult females can be 'gone in with' though not all are friendly e.g. Kaja who went to Chessington(she bit J A !)

    The tradition of going in with the adult groups may now be a thing of the past possibly.
     
    Last edited: 14 Jan 2011