Gorillas in his midst. A City trader finds happiness
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