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Gorillas Versus a Camp T-Shirt

By: Brenda, Director of Education and Volunteers, Audubon Zoo

This is the tale of the gorilla that never forgets.  Casey, the male silverback Western Lowland Gorilla here at the Audubon Zoo has a memory for anyone “that done him wrong” and that includes some innocent Audubon Zoo campers. 

This tales starts in the summer of 2003 after Casey moved here from the Como Park Zoo in Minnesota.  A  Head Camp counselor (that no longer works here) took her group to see the gorillas.  For some reason, this counselor had her group do some chest beating and yelling at the 19 year old silverback.  This was extremely inappropriate behavior for that group of human primates. For adult males chest beating is usually a threat display.  This appalling behavior by that camp group extremely upset Casey.  Casey did what any adult gorilla would do, he began tearing up the vegetation in his exhibit and throwing it at the campers.  From that day on, if Casey saw any child in the Audubon Zoo camp shirt he would hurl objects at them, including trees firmly planted several feet in the ground. He also threw buckets, logs, rocks, clumps of dirt and more.  He HATED Audubon Zoo campers.

Fast forward to 2011, eight years later and the zoo is full of summer campers of all kinds:  kids in yellow shirts, kids in green shirts, kids in white shirts with black lettering.  They all want to see the primates.  They go to the gorilla exhibit and watch Praline, the teenage female, play in the water.  Casey is fine; he sits in the corner and watches.  Then the campers with the white shirts and pink and brown zoo logo quietly approach.  They want to see what all the fun is about.  Casey spots the children in the hated t-shirts.  He starts to give off the strong scent of stress created by the glands in his armpits.  You can smell it from a great distance.  The keepers smelled it and knew something was up.  Dirt clods began to fly.  The zoo campers knew it was them and left.

The Audubon Zoo camp has had the same t-shirt logo for over 20 years.  The shirts are white to keep the campers cool.  The logo has remained the same so that families can pass down the shirts from summer to summer (if they actually survive a week of zoo camp without being seriously stained and worn).  It’s also a matter of cost and supplies.  Changing the shirt would incur some extra costs.  Now we are wondering if we should change the iconic zoo camp t-shirt because Casey the gorilla won’t forget the campers of 2003.  Is it fair to the future generations of campers who want to observe and learn about the Western lowland gorillas to be denied because of the design of their t-shirt?

What a dilemma. What an interesting animal.  I am curious to hear your thoughts.  Should we change the t-shirt because a gorilla never forgets?

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