Dallas Zoo’s Primate Keeper II Ashley Orr guest blogs for ZooHoo!
You may have seen the original viral video of gorilla Zola dancing in a puddle when he was a youngster living at Calgary Zoo, and his passion for splashin’ has only continued with age! However, there’s a lot more to this behavior than a great ape groovin’ in the water.
Zola is a 14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla, and the youngest member of our bachelor troop. When he isn’t hanging out in the South gorilla habitat, Zola spends his hours inside our roomy gorilla building. The big, blue pool featured in this video is one of many enrichment items the gorilla keepers use to engage primates.
The Association of Zoos & Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure that the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices. Enrichment helps enhance the environment and lives of animals by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior. This is an important component in caring for all zoo animals, but primate enrichment is among the most complex and varied.
Enrichment can take many forms; it can be an object such as a ball, a scent like an herb or perfume, visual stimulation such as a mirror, a change in an animal’s company or location, an activity like painting or training, introduction of a new food, or a challenging food presentation… the options are almost limitless! As keepers, we are constantly coming up with new and fresh ways to enrich our animals. And clearly the pool is a favorite for Zola!
Zola’s “dancing” is really just a play behavior (there was no breakdance music playing in the building, we promise). Play is a natural behavior present in a wide array of animals. In fact, the presence of play can signify an animal is content or comfortable, and it is recognized as an indicator for general welfare. It is easy for anyone to appreciate the good time that Zola is having in the pool because we recognize some of the same signs of play that we see in people.
Gorillas in the wild have been observed to willingly enter the water to feed or to cross to other areas. Some gorillas have even been documented using long sticks to probe beneath the water and gauge depth for safe passage (fun fact, gorillas are anatomically too dense to swim). This is an impressive example of great ape intelligence.
Visit Zola and the three other gorillas in our bachelor troop, or the four members of the family troop, to watch them engage with enrichment in their habitats. Proceeds from your visit help purchase enrichment items for our Zoo animals, and also support our conservation partners in the field, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), that help gorillas in the wild.