Go­ril­las in his midst. A City trader finds hap­pi­ness

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY SANDY RASHTY

DAN SIM­MONDS never liked work­ing in the City, where he earned a six-fig­ure salary as an oil trader. And so, a decade ago, he quit and joined Lon­don Zoo, where he is now a se­nior keeper — and a star of the prime-time ITV re­al­ity se­ries, The Zoo. “I turned up on my first day and they just­put­mewith­the­mon­keys.It­waslike be­ing in my pre­vi­ous of­fice,” jokes the 40-year-old. “Work­ing in the City was aw­ful, as has since been shown by all the scan­dals. I was brought up to be hon­est and I just stood out like a sore thumb.” The up­side was that he saved enough to buy his first home in Shored­itch, where he still lives, hav­ing started work at 18. He de­clined a Not­ting­ham Univer­sity place af­ter fin­ish­ing Univer­sity Col­lege School in Hamp­stead.

When he landed the job at the Re­gent’s Park zoo, for­mer col­leagues “thought I was hav­ing a ner­vous break­down and my par­ents thought I was jok­ing. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m su­per happy.

“I was lucky I got the job be­cause I didn’t have a plan B. I al­ways loved con­ser­va­tion and zoo-keep­ing.” He spent the next two years train­ing to be­come a qual­i­fied keeper. “I started work­ing with the mon­keys and moved on to go­ril­las.” Although Sim­monds also looks af­ter tigers, pen­guins and lions, 90 per cent of his time is spent with the go­ril­las. “They don’t like changes to their rou­tine,” he ex­plains. “It can take the best part of a year to bond with them, es­pe­cially if they’re head­strong.”

So strong is Sim­monds’s bond with the zoo’s four go­ril­las is that he dis­cusses them by name and char­ac­ter. He gives them Fairy Liq­uid bub­ble baths and choco­late spread and grapes as treats. In the first episode, broad­cast last Sun­day, Sim­monds is seen train­ing sil­ver­back­Kum­bukaand­doin­gaspotof DIY to re­fur­bish the Go­rilla King­dom.

“Go­ril­las are very sim­i­lar to peo­ple,” he says. “They’re big, fat couch pota­toes. They’re very lazy. They love look­ing at them­selves, so some­times we put mir­rors in there. One go­rilla, Zaire, looks at her­self so much, it’s a sur­prise the mir­ror doesn’t crack.

“They can be very moody. You have to be re­ally pa­tient with them. Like us, they some­times just get up on the wrong side of the bed and other days they’re play­ful. The fe­males are all in sync and get PMT at the same time, so they take it out on the male go­ril­las — and me.”

Sim­monds has never been at­tacked, but ac­knowl­edges that “they are danger­ous an­i­mals and will even­tu­ally punch or bite you. That’s what they’re de­signed to do. That’s why we don’t get in with our go­ril­las. We have to re­spect their wild in­stincts. Keep­ers who get into the cage — frankly, it’s all about their ego. There’s no need for it.”

He has learnt to un­der­stand how go­ril­las com­mu­ni­cate. “They don’t re­ally vo­calise. In the go­rilla com­mu­nity, it’s all about very sub­tle body lan­guage. The only way to learn it is to spend thou­sands of hours with them.

“Some vis­i­tors start to get down on all fours to try and be­have like the go­ril­las. If you be­have like a go­rilla, they might come over but they’re think­ing, ‘what on earth are you do­ing?’.

“It’s rare to see peo­ple ril­ing up the an­i­mals but if I see peo­ple tap­ping or kick­ing on the glass, they will cer­tainly be told off.”

Sim­monds once took a North West- ern Re­form Sy­n­a­gogue group on a tour of the zoo, dur­ing which they de­bated cre­ation­ism ver­sus evo­lu­tion — he sub­scribes to the lat­ter the­ory.

He is sin­gle and, sur­pris­ingly, does not have a pet. “When I get home, I do like to have a break,” he ex­plains.

‘The Zoo’ is on ITV on Sun­days at 8pm


Dan Sim­monds and friend

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