For Ndume’s 30th birthday I wanted the warmth and love of family to be the predominant feeling, since the gorillas are very much family to us. Growing up with a Latino heritage, my fondest memories are the birthday parties we would have at my grandfather’s house in East Los Angeles. Filled with laughter, wonderful food, and music,
I wanted Ndume’s birthday to reflect the comfort and happiness of these family gatherings. When planning this fiesta de cumpleaños (birthday party), I made sure to include all the bright colorful banners, tacos, piñatas, luchador masks, and dulces I could get my hands on.
Although I was not present to participate in the fiesta, Caregiver Christina describes (below) all the laughter and joy that I had hoped the day would be filled with! — Caregiver Andrea
The gorillas can often sense the excitement of the caregivers leading up to a large celebration like Ndume’s 30th birthday party. The night before his party was to take place Caregiver Andrea made sure to remind Ndume that his birthday party would be the following day, to which he responded with a loud excited purr.
When I woke him up on October 10th (Ndume’s actual birthday) saying “Rise and shine birthday boy we have lots of exciting things planned for you today!” he kissed and purred. His morning routine went about as usual with training,and caregivers setting up the yard with his enrichment and his browse (green leafy plants). The enrichment in the yard was a mix of various pop-up tents that were found at the recent Woodside rummage sale, and other odds and ends that were somehow different, new, and exciting. The caregivers hung up blankets that had been painted with the words “Happy Birthday Ndume” including a very special heart-felt blanket that had personal messages written on it from Ndume’s friends (past Caregivers, volunteers, and the like). A plastic turtle sandbox was turned into a pool with slices of apples in it for Ndume to “bob for apples”. Ndume was VERY anxious to go outside and view all the new enrichment (see photo above).
The weather, unfortunately, wasn’t as cooperative as it had been for Koko’s birthday earlier in the year and Ndume’s birthday was met with a warm drizzly rain. However, Ndume wasn’t going to let this ruin his birthday celebration and he went outside eagerly running bipedally across the yard into an attached building with other birthday goodies set up inside. When Ndume went outside I immediately went about cleaning his rooms so that he could have access to them.
The birthday enrichment didn’t stop with just the yard activities. After I had cleaned his rooms, I set out special fiesta-themed blankets, hung streamers in his mesh, laid out his presents (with a hidden nut inside each one), hung up banners with various sayings on them, and a piñata with nut goodies inside. As soon as Ndume heard the gate close on his room I saw him run back across the yard and sit patiently outside his chute to be given access. He’s been trained to station at the edge of a cement circle and will only move to go inside once the chute door has been opened all the way. On this day his excitement was more than he could handle. While he waited for the locks on the door to be cross-checked by another caregiver, Ndume climbed the mesh next to his chute so that he could look through the window into the human kitchen area of his room to see if he could catch a glimpse of the treats awaiting him inside. When I asked him to station back to his usual spot he immediately got off the mesh and sat patiently where he was suppose to be. I then gave him access to his rooms and the scene that ensued was more than I could have imagined (see video below].
Ndume’s birthday festivities continued with a fiesta lunch that consisted of vegetarian tamales (made by volunteer Jennifer Gonzales), corn tortilla tacos with beans, lettuce, vegan sour cream and rice, gluten free tortilla chips with 3-layer dip (made by Caregiver Jana), gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan chocolate cake (made by Caregiver Andrea) with cherry yogurt icing, and multiple fruit drinks. Ndume ate quite well at lunch. He started out with the drink selection, then moved on to the vegetarian tamales, the open-faced tacos, the chips with dip and THEN ate the birthday cake slice (see photo) — saving the best for last!<
Ndume spent the next couple of hours resting and hoping that the rain would go away. Although the weather didn’t improve, he was too giddy with excitement and energy to care. Instead he instigated a game of intense chase with me in the yard. He galloped out of his main set of rooms, and did a running loop in the yard to look at all the decorations, then went into one of the other buildings attached to the yard. I chased him the entire way and as soon as I made my way into the building, he dashed off again and waited for me in the yard to catch up. Once I caught up with him, he grabbed one of the water bottles we keep in the yard and galloped across the yard with it in his mouth until he got to the area covered by green astro turf. He popped the plastic lid partially off the bottle and squeezed it causing water to spray out everywhere. He then dumped the rest of the water onto the astro turf and rolled around in it on his back. I began laughing at him because he was having such a good time and my laughter caught his attention. He started another game of chase on the far side of the enclosure, which can be slightly muddier during rain, and ran back and forth on this side of the yard. To the untrained observer, it might have appeared that Ndume was stressed or agitated, but he was just having fun! He slid across the grass and turned the mud into a ‘slip n’ slide’ of sorts.(see earlier blog). He was having a GREAT time! After his silliness with the mud, he wandered around the yard and found various puddles, which he would either jump in or splash his hands around in, sometimes even cleaning dirty objects off with the water. Eventually, he calmed down and decided it was time for a nap.
The rest of Ndume’s birthday was spent in a euphoric relaxed state. There was nothing you could have done that would have put him in a bad mood on this particular day. He was a site to behold. Ndume is always doing things that never cease to amaze me, and his birthday was no exception. It was a huge success and a day that he (and I) won’t soon forget.
Koko enjoyed Ndume’s birthday festivities as well. She can be seen in the video coming into Ndume’s room to watch him open his presents, and to participate in the excitement of his big day. So that she wouldn’t feel left out, Koko also received a few special gifts as well as her own pinata and fiesta lunch. We strive to make both gorillas feel special and loved every day of the year!
by Christina Herron, former Gorilla Foundation Caregiver / Research Assistant