Like most 20-year-olds, Jelani the gorilla likes losing himself in Internet videos — especially ones about gorillas.
It's what makes the Louisville Zoo resident so interesting to watch. He's fascinated with watching videos and scrolling through photos on cell phones.
On a regular day, the silverback gorilla spends his time sleeping, playing and watching his back as he and three other gorillas work out the dynamics of who’s in charge of their bachelor pad. But he occasionally takes a break to check out a cell phone, courtesy of a zoo guest.
Louisville Zoo visitors sometimes sit against the glass of Jelani's cage, hold out their cell phones and share in some YouTube time with the ape. Most recently, a photo of Jelani with zoo-visitor Lindsey Costello went viral.
Costello said she and Jelani watched gorillas videos side-by-side for about 20 minutes.
"If he got tired of a video he'd move his hand up and swipe," Costello said. "If I moved the phone away he'd stretch it out. He intimately enjoyed the videos."
Supervisor of the zoo's Gorilla Forest exhibit Jill Katka said Jelani has his preferences when it comes to Internet videos.
“He definitely differentiates between pictures of gorillas, that’s his favorite, chimps or other monkeys too," she said. "Pictures of people are OK, but dogs and cats not so much, and pictures of buildings, he’s not even interested.”
Jelani's attraction to cell phones started at an early age. While housed at another zoo, Jelani jumped off a platform and cracked his skull.
“The volunteers used to show him picture books in order to keep him occupied," Katka said. "Sometimes when you give them that extra attention and medical care, they become extra bonded to the humans that are taking care of them."
And perhaps he got a first taste for someone's cell phone.
"When the gorillas are on exhibit the people are their TV," Katka said. "They interact with the people and are interested in what the people are doing. They really like people watching, they know what’s going on. ... . Jelani is very personable and really likes to hang around us. He wants to see what we are doing."
Has the zoo ever considered giving him one of his own to check out? Could handing him the phone possibly open up a line of communication between ape and human?
“He would take the phone apart to see what was inside of it,” Katka said.
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