Mission Ndume by Adrienne Mrsny

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Holiday celebrations at the Gorilla Foundation are a chance to give the gorillas a day out of the ordinary. With a bit of imagination and a few key enrichment pieces, the yard and bedrooms can be transformed into a different world. For Ndume’s birthday this year (Oct. 10, 2008) we went as far out as you can get, we went to space.

The large yard was transformed into a lunar surface. The ground became a silver terrain with large craters, created with silver tarps and large plastic buckets beneath. To the right , there was a large waterfall of cascading green ooze that bubbled in a lake (made of green tarps) below. Bubbles were made with green paper origami balloons, filled with popcorn and nuts (100% edible). The “lake” was complete with large floating branches and a huge mutant turtle.

Further down the yard was the “rocket ship” that would get our brave interplanetary gorilla explorers home. The ship’s facade was made from a very large corrugated tube with sturdy pieces of paper to form the fins and the nose cone. Ndume eventually discovered that the only way to get into the rocket was (unfortunately) by knocking it on its side, and pulling out all the toys and treats inside.

To complete this stellar scene there were “shooting stars” all around the yard. Since Koko has been known to eat paper, standard piñatas were out of the question. As a convenient alternative, cardboard, string and paint were used to make these star “piñatas”, which spilled out veggies and popcorn when shaken or opened.

Ambassador Koko was (as usual) the first to explore the new terrain, investigating each component carefully. Shortly after she was joined by her fellow explorer and birthday boy, Ndume. Together they explored the terrain, searching for food hidden amongst the strange lunar scene. Koko then watched from her perch, enjoying the warm sun on the crisp fall day, while Ndume turned over every last stone searching for food, then finally rested in the sun on the silver tarps.


Mission Ndume Slideshow (click to play)

At lunchtime, “stars”, tiny “planets” and “rockets” awaited both gorillas in their rooms along with presents and a feast. The rockets were made from paper towel rolls, with a plug attached to a string, so the string could be pulled and the contents (tasty treats) would release. In their excitement, both gorillas ignored the apparatus and simply pulled each rocket down , pouring the contents out of the top. The “planets” were much easier to figure out. They were made from cardboard apple holders tied together, and when shaken expelled food.

Presents were another highlight for both gorillas. Ndume spent a lot of time looking through his packages and inspecting every detail, he was especially curious about the tissue paper, carrying it around on his head at one point.

Despite the above attractions the feast, as always, took center stage. The feast was full of “planets” (beets), “aliens” (artichoke hearts with frizze for arms, and porcupine meatballs), “flying saucers” (falafel discs), and a “rocket ship” (gorilla rice crispy squares) for dessert. Ndume burst into his primary room with a loud purr and spun in circles into his secondary room which contained the meal. He purred loudly throughout lunch. I brought drinks over to him at the window to enjoy with his meal.

Ndume was so overwhelmed with excitement that he tried to eat and drink at once, both hands full of food as he fumbled around to find the straw with his lips. Once he consumed all that was placed in front of him, he turned his attention back to his presents. Sitting in a pile of them with their wrappings all around, he tossed the presents into the air, letting them fall onto his head as he played.

Like any space explorer in a “waitless” environment, when the playing has subsided and all the treats have been found and eaten, it is time to take a nap. Climbing to the top of the green oozy waterfall, Ndume enjoyed the last of the warm sunlight on his birthday purring softly to himself in this alien — yet somehow familiar and comfortable — terrain.