Gorilla keeper Linda Ervine talks about her work at the Toronto Zoo
It was love at first sight when Barney the gorilla met future zookeeper Linda Ervine. « The moment I entered the quarantine zone, » Ervine recalled, « Barney ran up to me screaming and crying and grabbed onto my leg. »
The Metropolitan Zoo in Toronto hadn’t even opened its doors to visitors when Ervine signed on as a trainee keeper in January 1974. « After a few weeks of training, » she says, « I was asked to take care of the first two gorillas who arrived for their quarantine period. While Barney, who had been the runt of her litter, bonded quickly with Ervine, she says « his partner Caroline was more shy and took longer to trust me. »
Before the zoo opened in August, the city’s exotic animals were kept in small, dark structures with concrete floors and iron bars at what is now Riverdale Farm. Animal lovers were thrilled when plans were announced for a new zoo where animals could roam relatively freely in more natural environments. Ervine jumped at the chance to be a part of it.
“I had been writing letters to the board since I heard the zoo was under construction,” she says. « During my interview, I brought a research paper I had written on primate behavior at the old Riverdale Zoo, for a primatology class at York University. »
Her passion for primates led Ervine on a long journey with Barney, as seen in this photo taken for the Star in August 1977. gorillas at the new African Pavilion and I worked with them for the next 11 years.
Ervine has also treated many other animals from Africa and Eurasia. “As caretakers, we were responsible for all day-to-day care,” she says. « While feeding and cleaning took up the majority of the time, observation, record keeping, reporting problems, enriching the animals’ environment and talking to visitors were also important aspects of the work. »
During her more than 30 years at the zoo, Ervine has been part of a dedicated team that has made her a world-class resource and attraction. « I’ve been fortunate to work with a great group of people, laying the foundation for a new institution and helping overcome growing pains, » says Ervine, who set up the first recycling program and then went on to worked in management. « A few years after my retirement, I returned part-time for a short period to research and develop a plan to integrate environmental responsibility into all zoo operations. »
Today, Ervine lives in a building that does not allow animals. « So, » she says, « my main interaction with wildlife now is birdwatching. »
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