Many years of planning took place to create an aesthetically pleasing gorilla exhibit for visitors that also provides an educational experience while observing these awe-inspiring creatures.
Ndoki Base Camp covers more than 4,000-square-feet, with ample public viewing areas of the gorillas both indoors and outdoors. Indoor animal areas include caging for the gorillas, a special isolation area, keeper office spaces, a kitchen and a group room where the gorillas can remain active at times when they cannot go outdoors.
The visitor space features nose-to-nose viewing of the exhibit and the animals through a 36-foot span of glass. Visitors also may observe the gorillas in the group room during inclement weather.
The state of the art caging system is designed so that the gorillas can easily be shifted from one area to another in full view of the keepers. Cage doors are wheel-operated and chain driven slide doors; so power failures pose no threat to security. There is an additional keeper hallway with full views of the doors so keepers can see that all doors are closed before entering the cage area. Gorillas and humans are susceptible to many of the same illnesses, so the isolation area is on a separate air duct system from the rest of the building as an extra health precaution. There also is a nearly 300-square-foot isolation yard so the separated animal can go outdoors when appropriate. Doors from the caging area to the exterior are located adjacent to the viewing window, so the gorillas can be seen by the keepers almost immediately as they enter the outdoor yard, and return in full view at the end of the day.
The outdoor space of the gorilla enclosure is lushly planted to resemble the natural habitat of the rainforest in the Congo. Open grassy areas, called bais, face the public viewing areas in Base Camp and at the outside viewing areas, where gorillas and humans are separated by moats and fences. The vegetation has been checked to be sure it is not toxic, and the gorillas will be supplied with plenty of browse each day. Gorillas have been known to clear distances of up to ten feet when stressed, so a 12-foot barrier height has been established. All the surfaces have been tested to be free of handholds to deter any attempts by the gorillas to climb out of the exhibit.
Operant conditioning and enrichment are an important part of the daily schedule for Riverbanks’ gorilla troop. Several sessions each day with activities such as targeting, holding in position and presenting body parts for examination benefit the gorillas and the keepers. Enrichment items also keep the gorillas physically and mentally active and are updated on a regular basis.
The public space of Base Camp is filled with entertaining and educational graphics. They include interactive graphics that allow visitors to compare their hand to that of a gorilla, locate the natural habitats of all five species of the great apes (western lowland gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans) and learn what types of foods gorillas prefer. Other graphics include a history of the Ndoki Forest in West Africa, facial expressions and body language of gorillas and ID panels for Riverbanks’ gorilla troop.