What fruits and vegetables do monkeys eat

Each monkey has its own character

Ruben Gralki is a zoo keeper in the Berlin Zoological Garden. He speaks
with the bad wolves about his everyday life with monkeys and more

Profession: zoo keeper

How did you become a zookeeper?

After 10 years of school I applied for an apprenticeship here at the zoo. In three years you go through all the animal areas and then you are already done. I've been here for over 20 years now.

What does a carer do?

Most of the time you clean up, then you prepare feed, feed it, make sure that the animals stay healthy, keep the animals busy, explain something to visitors, set up enclosures, these are the main tasks.

Can you tell us something about your everyday life?

We are a team and the first thing you do is check whether all animals are healthy, whether all enclosures are in order. Then the work is divided up: one prepares the various meals for all animals, the other cleans, one takes over the commented feeding, where something is explained to the visitors. We think about something to keep the animals busy and some are trained.

There are many different species of monkeys here. Are you assigned to a species of monkey?

There are two areas: the little monkeys, where another team of keepers works, and the big monkeys. That's where I work, with the great apes: gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos.

Do you live far from the zoo?

I live here, right above the monkey house. Not all carers live here. When the visitors are out of the zoo at 6.30 p.m., it gets quiet and the animals react differently. It's nice to live here and have a little bit of your own park. Most animals sleep at night.

What do you enjoy the most?

When you deal directly with the animals, for example when you teach them something.

Do you have a certain relationship with some monkeys?

Yes. You all know them personally, not just by name. Each monkey has its own character. One gets along better with one another, maybe less with the other. It's like with people. My favorite is the bonobos, they are similar to the chimpanzees.

Do you also have a favorite monkey?

Yes, one of the bonobos. But recently he moved to the Cologne Zoo because the animals are exchanged among the zoos. It was a bit difficult for me, but I accompanied him on the trip and for a few days in Cologne.

How old do monkeys get?

Is it possible to distinguish the monkeys by their behavior?

Yes. There are species that live in groups, others that are more solitary. They eat differently, come from different habitats and countries.

How long does a monkey live on average and how old is the oldest monkey here?

It's very different. The great apes live to be no more than 45 years old in nature. They get older in the zoo. We also take care of them as they get older and weaker. They can live to be over 60 years old in the zoo. A female gorilla will be 60 years old this year.

When do monkeys start running?

For the first six months they are only with their mother, only then do they begin to be interested in the environment, grab a branch or food. It takes a year for them to move away from their mother a little. They still drink milk from their mother until they are 5 years old.

What do monkeys eat?

When do you feed the animals and what do you give them?

The great apes get fruit and vegetables, as well as some animal products such as eggs, yoghurt and sometimes boiled meat. We don't have the food here that the animals have in their area of ​​origin. Therefore we try to replace it with products from here. And since the monkeys often eat in nature during the day, we do that in the zoo too. We feed the gorillas six times a day.
One of the tasks of the keepers is to keep the animals busy. Therefore, the food is sometimes given to them in a hidden way that they have to work hard to get to it. We fill yoghurt into metal containers, the monkeys then have to laboriously pull it out with sticks. They get raisins in a wood with holes, so they also have something to do.

Do the monkeys have a preference for certain foods?

Many prefer to eat sweets, for example bananas or grapes. It is unhealthy in the long run, you have to eat enough vegetables or leaves. One female chimpanzee here particularly likes onions, others like leeks, it varies from animal to animal.

Do visitors sometimes feed too?

Unfortunately, yes, they give what monkeys like, like nuts. But if 30 people do this in one day, it can quickly become unhealthy, even dangerous for the animals. Some monkeys, when they see people with ice cream, beg, clap, or fax, and visitors can't resist and give it to them. This is very annoying.

How do you groom monkeys?

Do you sometimes have to wash the monkeys?

No, you don't have to and you wouldn't like it. We also don't go directly to the animals in the enclosure. Chimpanzees are rather afraid of water, in Africa they protect themselves under leaves when it rains. You can't swim either.

Do they have fleas too?

They are not full of lice or fleas. They say louse is good for the coat. However, it's less about caring and more about showing friendship to cement bonds.

Don't you care for them directly?

For example, we do medical training with them. We teach them how to reach us with arms and feet through the bars, how to let us look into their mouths, how to give them injections, how to measure their temperature and how to urinate on command. It makes the vet's job a lot easier. The animals enjoy such training, especially because they get food.

Is it dangerous to work as a zoo keeper or veterinarian?

You already know the animals, but you mustn't forget that they are wild animals. They may bite off a finger.

The story of a mother orangutan

Can you tell us a special story?

Orangutan female Djasinga has abandoned her first baby. The mother did not stay with the young after birth; the baby usually remains clung to the mother's tummy. She wasn't interested in it. We gave her more time, but it didn't help. That's why we gave him the bottle every two hours, including at night. It slept in our apartment. It had a box with an electric blanket. We wrapped it to keep it clean, kept it warm, and then we decided it would go to a zoo in England. There was also a baby orangutan there without a mother. And he's fine there. It is important that such young animals do not stay alone with humans for long, as this leads to wrong behavior.

Different great apes


Chimpanzees are most closely related to humans. When the females are sexually mature, they leave the group. On the photo you can see Karl and Lili lousing.


Orangutans live in trees and rarely go to the ground. They don't live as couples, they live separately. Male orangutans are twice as heavy as females. The long hair is used to look very tall in order to impress other males. His name is Mano and is now 40 years old.


Fatou is turning 60 this year, she was born in Africa and came here in 1959. It has not been allowed to take such animals from nature since the 1970s. Unfortunately, she now lives alone because it is no longer possible in a group. At this old age, she likes to be quiet.
In the gorilla group there are females and only one male: Ivo with the silverback. He is the boss, unfortunately not fertile. He's incredibly clever and loves using a stick to get food out of a box full of holes. The female in the photo is called Djambala.


With the bonobos, the females are in charge. Only twelve zoos in Europe keep bonobos. They only occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in a small area of ​​the rainforest.
I was also there once, on a project, where they were observed in nature. It's really exciting when you usually only know the animals in the zoo.

Interview: Chloé, Gaïa, Ina, Julienne, Mathilde and Natalia Drawings: Gaïa, Natalia and Rosalie

Photos: Benoît, Gaïa, Mathilde and Natalia
Photo care: monkey with open mouth © Photo panel in the monkey house of the Berlin Zoological Garden
Text, drawings and photos © Grand méchant loup | Bad Wolf
February 2017