Inside Story - Planet of the Primates

by ZSL on

The Zoo may be closed, but life goes on as usual for our dedicated team caring for our animals. Zookeeper Nick Burnham from ZSL London Zoo’s Primate team gives us the inside scoop on some of our closest relatives, and tells us who his favourite animal is...

Primate keeper Nick Burnham at ZSL London Zoo

How do we tell our monkeys from our apes? 

As a rule of thumb, if primates have tails they’re usually monkeys. If you can’t see a tail they’re normally apes – like us!


When's best to spot primates at London Zoo?

Come rain or shine, you will nearly always see our father and son duo, northern white-cheeked gibbons Jimmy and Yoda, swinging about their home. They love to be outside (which can make it hard for us to clean their outdoor areas)! So even if it’s pouring with rain Jimmy will be sitting on a branch, quite contently, refusing to take cover.

The gorillas are best to catch when the Zoo opens or at lunch time. At 10am we go into the back dens to give everything a clean – so they’re always out and about. At 1:30pm they’ll normally have a feed of pulses and leaves on the island so it’s a good time to spot them foraging.

Unless it’s pouring, you can guarantee the squirrel monkeys will be dashing around their walkthrough, up to their mischievous ways as always!

A squirrel monkey at ZSL London Zoo

Who are the biggest characters? 

For me, it’s some of the smallest. Marco, the little baby of our macaque group, is so inquisitive. He’s a ball of energy and always jumping on the others – using his dad as a springboard to reach higher. Macaque babies are perfect miniatures of their parents, except for their almost full-grown ears. So you’ll find Marco swinging around with ears far too big for him – he’ll grow into them eventually!

It’s great having a couple of juvenile gorillas at the same time, they bring so much energy to the troop. Alika is now five and Gernot is four so they play together a lot. Alika tends to win at the moment because she’s about 10kg heavier but, as a male, Gernot’s going to start growing a lot faster soon. She’s going to have to watch out!

Western lowland gorilla, Alika

Does anyone have any odd habits?

Primates are so interesting because they’re a lot like us. They all have little traits, and the longer you spend with them the more you understand them. Mangabeys smack their lips to communicate and our whole troop does it – apart from Lucky, the dominant male. He'll stick his tongue out instead. It’s his own unique way of saying hello. Stick your tongue out at him next time you see him and he’ll do it back!

Our Hanuman langurs in Land of the Lions are incredibly agile gymnasts. Kamala, the youngster of the group, will watch as Lucy does backflips for her and then try herself. You can see her copying and trying to learn. It’s quite amazing to watch.

Northern white-cheeked gibbon, Jimmy

Do you have a favourite?

You’re probably not meant to have a favourite but I think everybody does. I absolutely love Jimmy the gibbon, he’s a lot of fun because he’s so energetic and he really engages with people. You’ll hear him singing in the morning. Gibbons tend to sing in duets so Jimmy will start and Yoda, his son, will respond. Jimmy also likes to sing at the dogs in Regent’s Park, which I think is brilliant. They have no idea what’s happening but they bark along!

It will cost us £1m this month to continue feeding and caring for our 20,000 animals, without any visitor income to support the cost. Please help us survive this second lockdown by making a donation. Thank you so much. 

Donate today

Select a blog

Careers at ZSL

Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.

ZSL London Zoo

A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!

Conservation

We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.

Science

From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.

Education

A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.

Artefact of the month

Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.

Wild About

Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.

Chagos Expedition

The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

Asia Conservation Programme

ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.

Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation

An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.