Monday, Feb. 18 marked not one but two holidays. The first, of course, was President’s Day. The second was a less widely celebrated but still critically important holiday. That holiday was Little Joe’s 26th birthday. Little Joe, a western lowland gorilla, rung in another year of life with a family-friendly bash thrown by the Franklin Zoo.
Joe celebrated his birthday alongside his relatives, including his particularly adorable younger cousin Kimani. All the gorillas are a part of a Species Survival Plan, which makes efforts to preserve populations of endangered species. For the gorillas, birthday festivities included streamers, toys and decorated cardboard boxes. These toys, as explained by the zoo, “encourage natural behaviors and improve the animals’ mental health … to provide activities that excite all the senses.” The gorillas also celebrated with special treats to honor the birthday boy. Popcorn, kale and lettuce were given to the gorillas as a special treat, and to top it all off, they received a special cake made of “monkey chow.”
On the human side of the festivities, throngs of families packed around the enclosure to help celebrate the day, and dozens of young children and toddlers huddled around the enclosure to get a glimpse of the birthday boy. Zookeepers chatted with and entertained guests with information and fun facts about the gorillas, providing kids with a fun opportunity to learn about the natural world. Guests were also encouraged to explore the rest of the Tropical Forest exhibit, which features an array of snakes, monkeys and even a hippo. To keep the young guests entertained, the zoo offered pieces of a giant, Chiquita-banana-shaped cake, courtesy of Montilio’s Baking Company.
For more craftsy guests, zoo staff provided a booth where guests could make and decorate party crowns. Additionally, guests were given the opportunity to sign a birthday card for Joe, which filled up quickly with the messy, Crayola-marker scrawl of a host of toddlers. To top off the festivities, the zoo offered a free puppet show in the exhibit. The show featured an array of cute and kid-friendly characters, and served not only to entertain families but also to educate them about habitat loss and other essential information regarding the gorillas.
In sum, the event was a cute, fun and most importantly, informative celebration. Kids and parents alike took delight in the festivities, and it shaped up to be a very special day for a very special gorilla.