Ndume’s Kitten

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Caregiver’s Corner: One sunny day in May 2006, senior gorilla caregiver Jill Firstenberg brought a fluffy grey kitten to the Gorilla Foundation so Koko could have a visit with one of her favorite animals. After Koko’s visit with her new little friend, Jill and I thought Ndume might like to meet the adorable kitten as well. I scooped up the tiny ball of fur and headed into the building where Ndume was resting. Ndume immediately stood up and ran by me from one room to another, clearly unsettled “It’s ok Dumes, I have a cute little kitten,” I reasoned. Ndume wasn’t so sure; he ran back across the rooms “Ok, let’s go to the window first,” I said. I stepped outside with the kitten and stood near the window. Ndume climbed on top of a barrel and sat looking out at the kitten. He knocked on the wall. “Do you want me to bring the kitten in?” I asked. Ndume responded with a kiss and a knock, showing his assent. With the kitten still in my arms, I entered the building again. This time we were greeted with a loud purr. I put the kitten down, and she cautiously started exploring. Ndume came over from across the room to get a closer look at the animal moving around on the floor. He put his face right up to the steel mesh that separated him from the kitten and watched intently. Ndume purred again. He lowered his head, to the same level as the kittens, and continued to purr. This time the kitten was the one feeling unsettled. She backed away at first, not accustomed to seeing a 400-pound gorilla and hearing his rumbled contentment. She relaxed quickly and continued exploring the room, and my lap, while Ndume looked on. The visit lasted about 10 minutes until Ndume stood up and walked away. The kitten and I said our goodbyes and quietly left the room. It turned out Ndume wasn’t quite done with the visit after all. His head popped up in the window and he kissed and knocked as I handed the kitten back to Jill. Jill moved toward the window with the kitten in her arms. “Do you want another visit?” we asked. Ndume responded with a purr, a kiss, and a knock. I took the kitten back inside for another round. Ndume and the kitten had become friends.