The 20 Western Lowland gorillas here at Port Lympne are fed up to 6 times a day but we start their day with a warm jug of fruit tea. We give them fruit tea as it’s a nice healthy way of getting them to come indoors and closer to us first thing in the morning and gives us a chance to give them a quick “once over”.
Whilst they are inside we shut them in so that we can have access to the exterior cages to add fresh straw or do maintenance etc. We also give them their first feed or breakfast which we put on the roof of the cage “making” the gorillas work for their breakfast and spreading it out so that everyone gets a fair share. As wild gorillas naturally spend most of the day foraging we give the second feed as another scatter feed, which usually consists of nuts, a specially formulated pellet (which looks a bit like “Cheerios”) and small or chopped items of fruit. We would normally distribute this in the gardens to encourage them out into the open at 12 O’clock. The next feed has no set time and consists of 2 types of vegetable spread out into the gardens. At 3 o’clock the gorillas have something similar to what they had at 12 and again is spread out into the gardens.
At 4 O’clock each gorilla gets their own tailor made bucket of food. This feed is given individually, so each gorilla is separated into their own bedroom so that they can eat their meal in peace. This also means that we know for sure that each individual is eating a controlled amount of food. This feed is when they get some real goodies like apples and bananas and some get more than others depending on whether they’re growing or need to lose weight for example. Last, but not least, the gorillas get “browse” which is the term we use for leaves and branches; once again this is put onto the roof of the cage encouraging them to climb and work for it, which is of course what they would do in the wild.
All the gorillas often keep themselves busy by foraging through the straw, which naturally has seeds in it but we also provide a mix of sunflower seeds, oats and flaked maize. You can often see them blowing the chaff away from a handful of straw or nimbly picking individual seeds off of the floor. If they’re not foraging, adults do enjoy dozing off especially on a warm summer’s day, but the infants and juveniles have a bit more energy to burn so like to play on and off throughout the day.
By Phil Ridges, Head Gorilla Keeper at Port Lympne Reserve.