Mwelu, a Western Lowland Gorilla, is particularly fond of his new plastic castle, while the Macaques are having a blast with their new cars.

By Meghan Overdeep
February 07, 2018

As the Curator of Large Mammals for the Memphis Zoo, Courtney Janney is tasked with the herculean task of making sure her residents get plenty of mental and physical stimulation each day. No small feat when your wards include 500 pound gorillas and 20-foot giraffes.

"It's not about just giving toys to the animals," noted Janney. "It's about changing up their environment. That's not just physical stimulation; it's mental stimulation as well."

A mother of two, Janney came up with the brilliant idea of asking the Memphis community to donate used toys as enrichment for the zoo's primates. "I'm part of a Facebook group where I donate or sell my kids' stuff," Janney explained in a Facebook-produced video. "It's always been in the back of my mind that if I asked for donations to the zoo, people might donate."

And donate they did. Jennifer Brown, a regular zoo patron, donated the plastic fort that's transfixed Mwelu, a Western Lowland Gorilla, and his three female companions.

"I chuckle because I think, 'that was in our backyard. Now, primates are playing on our castle,'" Brown said in the video.

Several toy cars (a favorite of the Macaques) as well as slides, basketball hoops, sand tables and water tables were also donated. The animals are having a blast with the new toys.

"It was amazing to me because people could have very easily looked to sell them," Janney noted. "But I posted a picture of a monkey with one of those Cozy Coupe cars, and people just went nuts over it."

"The community's response was immediate and generous," continued Janney. "[The animals] deserve to have fun, too."

Those interested in donated used toys can check out the Memphis Zoo's donation page for more information.