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David Waite, primate keeper at London Zoo
Photograph: Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re a London Zoo keeper

James Manning

…according to David Waite, 26.

Mongooses love perfume

‘We work with a plethora of animals here at ZSL London, each with their own likes and dislikes. A great example is our narrow-striped mongooses: they love perfume. We spray it around the enclosures and that encourages the mongooses to scent-mark – behaviour that they’d do naturally in the wild. They don’t have expensive tastes, though: the cheapest perfumes are their favourites.’

Monkeys have an incredible aim

‘The black-and-white colobus monkeys are notorious for peeing on keepers, including me. Some of the monkeys have such a good aim that it feels like they do it on purpose. They’ve actually peed in my wellie boot before.’

The zoo scene is a small world

‘When I was five years old, my mum and dad worked at Belfast Zoo and there was a baby gorilla born called Kumbuka, who later went to a zoo in Germany. Well, when I first started at ZSL, the zoo had recently moved in a new gorilla as part of the European breeding programme – and it was Kumbuka! So we’ve come full circle: Kumbuka and I were both born in Belfast, and now we’re both here in London.’

Interacting with animals can make visitors change their ways

‘We engage with people on a day-to-day basis, especially with the younger generation, and try to inspire them to make the right decisions and think about animals more. You could rethink buying that chocolate bar that contains unsustainable palm oil, or that table made of tropical hardwood, which originates from the forests in Cameroon where we found our gorilla. Those decisions could be crucial to animals just like the ones you see in the zoo.’

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