That’s right… it’s time to play! The dictionary defines play as to “engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.” While scientists and animal behaviorists can’t say exactly why animals play, they believe the reasons go beyond just having fun.
Primates are social animals and, as such, play is important both socially and physically. Mammals, in particular, like to play — just watch your dog or cat. How many times have you been to Glacier Run and seen the twin grizzly bears Otis and Rita playfully wrestling?
For primates like Kindi that typically live in social or family groups, play is a very important means of learning social behaviors and getting along with other primates. You may see similar behaviors in children playing together on a preschool or elementary playground. Through play, we and other animals learn how to fit in socially!
To Kindi, play involves playing with her food, pulling on items including her keepers’ hair or reaching and grabbing for the camera when we go to get video and images of her. We mentioned in the last blog that Kindi likes to hang upside down; this is another form of play her mother Mia Moja also enjoyed.
Kindi also has a variety of small items in her bedroom to play with that help engage her curiosity, build her hand-eye coordination and strength, and encourage her to problem solve. When animals are young, their brains are changing fast. Playing with these objects helps Kindi to stay on track developmentally.
Kindi is now laughing and smiling a lot — and showing off her new teeth. She initiates playtime with her keepers, who respond by swinging her with their arms or letting her flip herself over. It’s important the care team engages in play that is similar to how Kindi’s mother would have behaved. This will help prepare Kindi for what she might experience with her future gorilla surrogate and will facilitate her ability to build strong bonds with other gorillas.