Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Special Trip to the Zoo--Part 2

The O-line lets the orangutans travel from one house to the other.

Last week, I told you about a special trip we had to the National Zoo. During this trip, we got a behind the scenes tour of the great ape house (orangutans and gorillas). Here a few more details of that tour.

The tour took place in the back of the exhibit. We were seeing the same things that we had seen as regular visitors to the zoo--just from a different perspective. We were seeing the back instead of the front. Speaking of the front of the exhibit, there are several layers of glass there that make things virtually sound proof for the animals. So the bad jokes and gorilla sounds the public are making aren't actually heard by the gorillas and orangutans.  The back of the exhibit is covered by a strong mesh.

We learned during our tour that first and foremost is the safety and well being of the animals. Thus there was a line that we could not cross that kept us an arm's length away from the apes. Also, we had to wear masks so that we could not pass on any colds or other illness we might have. The keepers also have to wear these when they are sick.

Lucy, 41, the oldest orangutan there.
The animals were very happy to see Eddie and us, and as described in the last post, some of them started to show off. Also, they started to push pieces of bamboo out of their enclosures. Eddie said they were tidying up for him. He said that one of the enrichment activities they do is to have them clean up their houses. This included getting rid of clutter. They love to do it because there's usually a tasty treat waiting for them at the end. I wish my kids, or me, for that matter, could be motivated so easily to clean up.

And speaking of tasty treats, they do get some (usually fruit), but their diet is very carefully controlled. Gorillas are herbivores and get a variety of vegetables and fruits every day. They had already been fed that morning and the only thing left was kale. They're just like us. They go for the "good" stuff first and leave the "good-for-you" stuff for last. Also, the day before, Eddie had cooked them some beans with stronger spices in them. The animals also enjoy some spicy food occasionally.  In addition, the keepers use spices sometimes as enrichment for the animals. For example, they may spread some cinnamon around the exhibit just because the apes enjoy the smell.

We also saw how they were training one of the gorillas to be a mother. They wanted to breed her, but wanted to make sure that she was up to the task because she hadn't been raised by her mother. She was improving because she no longer ripped the head off of the doll they were using. However, she still had a ways to go. :)

As you can tell by the way I'm going on and on, I was very excited by this trip. Actually, I could continue to go on and on but I think that's enough for now. Let's just end it with, life is good for both these apes and for me because I got a chance to meet them.

Pictures courtesy of the National Zoo.


  1. The zip line photo is priceless!

    Maybe I need the zookeeper's techniques to encourage my kids to clean up after themselves .... you learned so many fascinating details!

    1. I guess I just have to work on myself now that the kids have their own places to mess up.

  2. What an exciting way to visit the zoo. I would love behind the scenes glances! Lucky you!

    1. If you donate enough money and become a member, you can also get behind the scene tours. I am lucky that I got to do one without that.


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