By Jennifer Buchanan, Lead Animal Caregiver
As an animal caregiver at IPPL, part of my job includes food preparation and the feeding of our thirty-six gibbon residents. Some of our gibbons have special diets. For example, Blackie, one of our oldest gibbons who is estimated to be around 60 years old, is getting a little thin in his elder years, despite being a healthy guy.
To achieve the goal of making sure Mr. Blackie gets enough extra calories into his diet to keep him at a healthy weight for his size, the rest of the animal care staff and I hand-feed extra fruits and veggies to him during the day. Sometimes, on rare conditions, we give him some treats that are not the healthiest, but are high in protein and/or fat which is what Blackie needs occasionally (plus, what 60 year-old doesn’t get to enjoy a guilty snack every once in a while!).
I must share with you something about gibbons most people may not know: they are SUCH fussy eaters!! Yes, they have their favorite fruits and vegetables they eat with delight, but when it comes to administering vitamins, supplements, or medications and trying to hide them inside a yummy treat to entice them to eat it? GOOD LUCK! It’s like they know immediately something is in the treat that holds the ever-terrifying Vitamin C or other supplement. Delicious peanut butter that ape cousins like chimpanzees and orangutans love? Nope! Too sticky. When they get anything that sticks to their hands that are immediately “over it” and want no part of it.
Recently, we bought some small Moon Pies to use as a means to give medications or supplements to some of the fussier residents. Yes, Moon Pies are incredibly unhealthy but this is a rarity and it brought him such joy, as you will read and see below, that we hope readers understand the purpose of this and won’t think badly of us for giving such an unhealthy treat. Anyway…I was preparing lunch last Thursday and I was trying to think of something extra to hand feed Blackie. I happened to remember the Moon Pies! I thought that giving him one might be a fun treat to add some extra calories into his diet. As far as I know he had never had one before so I had some of the other staff come with me to see how he would react. When I gave it to him we were able to snap a few pictures of what ended up being a very funny moment with Blackie that I will never forget.
When I handed him the Moon Pie, he oooo’d at me (gibbon-talk and short form for “yes! I’d like to have that, great! Thank you!”) and took it right away. Then he went way up into the rafters where we couldn’t see him. His mate Chloe came over and situated herself directly under him. We were trying to distract Chloe so that she wouldn’t try to steal Blackie’s special treat (she tends to be somewhat of a glutton with food, especially such unique and delicious-looking treats as a Moon Pie. While we were playing with her, all of a sudden crumbs started raining down on her! Of course, Chloe notices this and starts looking around for the source of whatever was falling on her, then she sees Blackie right above her with his treat and she climbs up towards him.
We were all telling her not to steal his Moon Pie, but Blackie saw her coming and ran away. He was NOT going to give up such a delicious treat! He situated himself up in the rafters again, but this time we had a full view of the hilarious way in which he was eating the treat. It seemed like he really enjoyed the marshmallow inside of the cookie (but it’s SO sticky, right? Way stickier than peanut butter, but apparently gibbon-approved), and he didn’t quite care as much for the cookie outside.
Instead of holding it horizontally and taking bites of the whole thing, he started holding it vertically and was trying to only eat the middle. Cookie crumbs were flying everywhere, but he was eating all of the marshmallow-y goodness inside! It was like watching the pure joy of a baby eating its very first piece of birthday cake, a complete and utter sticky mess, but you could tell how much he was enjoying it. Even Chloe was too busy watching him eat it to try to steal it. When he finally got done, there were cookie crumbs all over his face and he dropped the rest of the treat. There wasn’t much left, but there was enough for his mate Chloe to try a few bites of the Moon Pie too. Chloe was much daintier about eating it though!
This is not something we will do regularly for many reasons, but it got some extra calories into Blackie and he really enjoyed his special treat. The rest of the staff and I really enjoyed watching him eat it too! Spending time with the gibbons and being able to give them as much enjoyment and enrichment in their lives as possible is definitely one of the best parts of my job and the part that I love the most.