Ten years ago when we drove 3 hours from Jacksonville Beach to DisneyWorld to see about getting summer jobs, my youngest kids and I had no way of knowing that our lives would never be
the same. Little did we know, we’d turn that part-time summer job into full-time careers and wouldn’t be returning to Jax Beach. We’d learn a new way to point, we’d learn to ‘ad-lib’ at the drop-of-a-hat, and we’d learn to always carry a bandana in each pocket to wipe sweat. My 2 youngest kids would quickly find out that Animal Kingdom is the hottest park on purpose because of the critters and luxurious foliage and that the animals’ comfort was more important than people’s! My daughter was excited to get assigned to the Pangani Forest Trail because that’s where she’d get to educate Guests about the Western Lowland Gorillas, Colobus Monkeys, Naked Mole Rats, numerous species of birds, meerkats, hippos, and a few other animals. She was deliriously happy because she wanted to become a Zoologist and, at the time, was just beginning college. She was definitely in the right place. The gorillas quickly became her favorite, even though they were very intimidating. Her stories she told when she came home were so much fun, especially when she discovered that GORILLAS LAUGH!
I’m glad that the laughter that my children bring to my life hasn’t stopped now that the 3 of them have become adults. When they were small, their cutesy and endearing antics would be things that I’d mention in letters that I’d write to my Mama and my Daddy and my Gramma. I couldn’t help but share these wonderful moments with my loved ones because we lived far away, moving around from Air Force base to Air Force base, and these were ways for the grandparents to feel connected and to help to add a ‘personality‘ to the many photos that I’d share. The kiddies were all a humorous bunch, but each in a different sort of way. My youngest boy was a natural clown; he’d say or do things at the oddest times that would make me laugh so much that I’d often have tears coming down my cheeks! The funny thing is that he didn’t even mean to. My oldest boy was, and is, an attention-seeker. He was always looking for and making up ways to make us laugh, which often leads to some of the worst jokes ever (he gets this ability to come up with stupid jokes from my brothers, unfortunately). Both of my sons haven’t changed in this respect….they’re still silly and corny. My only daughter has a totally different kinda way of making me laugh. You see, she’s your typical average everyday ‘genius‘….and everything that comes along with ‘the package‘; and by that I mean that SHE HAS LITTLE COMMON SENSE! That, in itself, is so very funny at times. The older she gets, the smarter she gets (she’s definitely surpassed me long ago), and of course, the smarter she gets….more and more ‘common sense‘ flies away somewhere! And oh! Did I mention that she’s also blonde? But she IS SUPER INTELLIGENT! I kid you not! Of course, my brothers adore teasing her. Add her vegetarianism to the mix and family get-togethers can be quite rough on her sometimes as her Uncles have probably had about a year between visits to come up with more dumb jokes and to pick on her! I never worry though, she’s one smart cooky. Over the years she’s learned to reply with some rather quick-witted retorts!
Back to the gorillas. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Pangani Forest Trail has 2 troops of Western Lowland Gorillas. The bachelor troop usually consists of 4 guys. They are separated from the family troop but Guests can view them from afar. However, both troops definitely can sense and can smell each other so this can be rather interesting at times. The family troop is a breeding troop and consists of a silverback and females and young gorillas. This number has changed many times in the 10 years that we’ve been here and I cannot wait to be 1 of the first visitors to that park when a new baby gorilla is allowed out into the gorilla habitat! Yep, those gorillas are now MY favorite too. I’ve sat and stared at that silverback for an hour or more at a time because as far as gorillas are concerned….he is 1 gorgeous specimen! He’s also a good breeder. He currently has offspring at many zoos across the country. My daughter tells lotsa stories about him.
Disney treats their animals like royalty. Their habitats are fabulous. I legally cannot tell you how nice their ‘backstage‘ areas are. They are tended to constantly by Animal Keepers & Veterinarians that specialize in their fields. None of these animals were collected from the wild. Disney is very ethical about this.
The family troop of gorillas has a big thick glass window so that Guests can view them. This only encompasses a teeny tiny portion of their vast habitat and the gorillas have the choice whether or not they want to ‘see the people‘. Often there aren’t ANY of them near the glass at all for the Castmember (who is basically acting as a ‘docent‘, explaining about this species) to refer to. There’s a heavy rope there to prevent Guests from pounding on the glass. The Castmember stands between this rope and the glass, with her back to the glass while facing the Guests and talking as folks are listening and peering out at the rocks and up the hill trying to spot gorillas. Or sometimes, especially in the hot afternoon, the big sleepy sliverback will be laying with his butt next to the glass where it’s cooler! Ohhh, how many times has my very patient daughter had to bite her tongue and NOT tell the Guest “No, I cannot tell the 400+ pound gorilla to turn over just so that you can get a better photo of his face!” Instead, the standard answer is “He’s actually displaying appropriate behavior. Facing you would be more of a challenge.” One day she came home to tell me the best story EVER! It seems that she was lecturing more than usual because none of the gorillas were visible and she didn’t want the Guests to be disappointed too much. There did seem to be an ever-growing crowd, however, and she assumed that the gorillas still weren’t nearby since nobody was taking photos yet. At this point, I must interject that these large apes are extremely intelligent primates….as of just 2 years ago, new research concluded that Humans and Western Lowland Gorillas are about 98% identical on a genetic level! My daughter and her fellow Castmembers at Pangani Forest Trail know each gorilla by sight and their characteristics, just as I know each of my children. I reckon that I ought NOT be surprised that these gorillas probably also recognize each of these Castmembers that they see on a daily basis too! Sooooo, when the silverback snuck up behind her and raised to his full big 6-foot-tall height and pressed against the glass, she still didn’t know he was there until she heard the audience gasp. Of course my 4′ 10″ daughter looked over her shoulder & was startled, jumped backed, and I’m sure her eyes were as big as those of all of the Guests as they were snapping their photographs wildly. What happened next delighted and surprised her tremendously….the silverback LAUGHED! His shoulders were actually moving up and down and up and down as he was having fun that he’d made her jump! I wish SO MUCH that I’d have been there because I know for sure that by this time, after the initial shock, she was giving him ‘the look‘ (I know ‘that look‘ very well).
A few months later my daughter left Pangani Forest Trail and moved on to another role within the same theme park–to drive the Kiliminjaro Safaris tours. It’s right next door to her former workplace so every few days she’d stop by and check on the animals that she became so fond of. On the Safaris attraction, there are many more animals that she gets to see on a daily basis and educate Guests about. Every once in awhile she’ll pick up an extra shift at Pangani Forest Trail. One time she hadn’t worn that familar green costume in a few months (her safari costume is khaki-colored) and she was looking forward to spending an hour or more with the gorillas. When she got to the family troop, the silverback saw her, recognized her, and then turned his back on her and wouldn’t look at her! She was puzzled. Later, she found out that he was probably mad at her for leaving! He didn’t understand why she’d come by sometimes in another color and I suppose he didn’t like it. Awwwww. It’s been 10 years now that she’s enjoyed her time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, no matter where she’s working as long as she’s seeing animals daily. But I don’t think my daughter is ever going to forget the day that she found out that GORILLAS LAUGH!