Research/Care Blog

Ndume's Birthday Treats (and Tricks) by Adrienne Mrsny

Ndume prepares to open a pumpkin

Date Added: 2009-11-24

October is always a busy time at the Gorilla Foundation.  Ndume’s Birthday, on October 10th,  is the first major event of the month for the gorillas.  Planning for the unpredictable fall weather, we try to create activities for the gorillas that will work both in- and out-of doors.  This year however, we were hit by a terrific storm on the day of Ndume’s planned birthday celebration.  The threat of hurricane-level winds and torrential rains forced us to postpone the outdoor part of the celebration.  However, it didn’t stop us from celebrating our favorite silverback’s 28th birthday indoors.

Knowing that the weather would leave the yard too wet for a gorilla celebration, we had a wonderful day of extra indoor enrichment that began with cases of empty water bottles filled with treats and browse (raw vegetables and freshly-picked plants).  To keep things exciting inside while the weather was inclement outside, Ndume’s room was filled with fuzzy blankets, large stuffed animals, a huge plush pillow, and brightly colored plastic balls. 

When lunchtime came, both gorillas got a special feast.  The day’s regular foods were complemented by some special dishes: vegan heavenly hash, aspic with fruits, 75% dark chocolate alligators with nuts, sweet potato chips and delicious drinks of apricot nectar with sparkling water.

  Birthday Lunch  
  Lunch Tray for Ndume's Birthday
(Photo by Adrienne Mrsny, caregiver. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)
 

A few days later, when the weather was nicer and the ground had dried, we had a second day of celebration that included our original outdoor enrichment plans for Ndume’s birthday.   This year, we gorilla-ized a childhood classic — building blocks.  With a little work we transformed fruit boxes into brightly colored building blocks and assorted Lego®-like objects. We then transformed the yard into a children’s playroom, with doll houses and jungle gyms as well as the new “cardboard toys.”  The enrichment fit in so well that it took Ndume a while to figure out what was different about the yard.  Once he realized the boxes held special birthday treats, no box was left unturned.

  Birthday Lunch  
  Ndume explores the specially arranged play yard
(Photo by Adrienne Mrsny, caregive. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)
 

The ” building blocks” were simple to make.  Donated fruit boxes were cleaned up and painted with bright colors.  We filled the inside of each box with different types of materials: packing paper, sheets, pillowcases, bubble wrap and typing paper.  Hidden amongst these was the day’s browse: green beans, cucumbers and celery, plus some special treats: both roasted and dark chocolate-covered nuts.  Some of the synthetic building blocks had plastic cups placed on top to resemble the studs on top of Legos®.  These cups were filled with paper balls:  some with treats inside, and others empty.

  Blocks Blocks Box  
  Preparation of the 'Building Blocks'
 
  (Photos by Piper Dwight, caregiver. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)  

Once the birthday festivities were over, we turned our attention to another gorilla-treasured celebration: Halloween.  As in previous years,  we were blessed with donated pumpkins from Farmer John in Half Moon Bay, California.  This year he gave us two 200 pound pumpkins, and fifteen other smaller pumpkins for carving.  The gorillas were in for quite a treat.

  Birthday Lunch  
  Caregivers Adrienne Mrsny, Kim Schreiner and Caitlin O'Donoghue
pose with one of the 200 pounders

 
  (Photo by Kim Schreiner, caregiver. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)  

Last year we noticed that Ndume did not play with the pumpkins as expected.  So, at the time, we cut a lid off of one, and let him look inside, hoping that would spark his interest.  As this had little effect, we then hollowed out another pumpkin, and stuck green beans into its inner skin.  When Ndume discovered the pumpkin with the green beans,  he quickly ate all of the beans, then moved around the yard smashing pumpkins to look inside for more beans.  While Ndume found no other beans last year, he did successfully smash every remaining pumpkin in the yard—purring loudly as he completed his mission.

  Box   Ndume  
  Green beans “growing” from the inside of a pumpkin   Ndume reaching inside for the beans  
  Ndume   Ndume  
  Ndume reaches for another pumpkin . . .   . . . to inspect for inner green beans.  
  Ndume   Ndume  
  Ndume opens a pumpkin . . .   . . . only to find it devoid of beans  
  (Photos by Kim Schreiner, caregiver. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)  


This year,  Ndume immediately smashed the first pumpkin he came across. After looking inside and finding nothing, he lost interest.  For a number of days, he returned to the yard and smashed at least one pumpkin to look inside for beans.  Finally, Ndume witnessed Koko  modeling the “correct” way to approach a pumpkin, and realized there was something even more delicious inside — raw pumpkin seeds!

  Ndume   Koko  
  Ndume gets the hang of eating pumpkin seeds . . .   . . . by watching Koko  
  (Photos by Kim Schreiner, caregiver. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)  

As the days grow shorter and the air grows crisper in Northern California, the gorilla’s indoor and outdoor environments remain both fun and full of treats (and tricks).  Recently,  we caregivers decided to join in and “become” the enrichment by dressing up as characters from the Wizard of Oz.  Anything to please (and enrich) a captive gorilla audience.

  Staff  
  Caregivers Tyler Robertson, Kim Schreiner and Piper Dwight, aka,
the Wizard, Dorothy and the Strawman, respectively.
 
(Photo by Cameron Mrsny, volunteer. © 2009 the Gorilla Foundation)



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