A record-breaking resident at The Lake District Wildlife Park near Keswick has just turned 55 years of age, making him the oldest of his kind anywhere in Europe.
Known as the ‘grandad’ of the Park, Brian the dancing Lar Gibbon became an internet sensation three years ago, when his entertaining antics were captured on film by an admiring visitor and viewed millions of times on YouTube.
Brian first appeared on zoological records in Spring 1963 and joined the Lake District Wildlife Park near Keswick in 2000. Lar Gibbons usually have a lifespan of around 44 years, but Brian has already beaten that average by well over a decade.
To mark the occasion, Brian has been tucking into a specially prepared birthday cake including a healthy mix of peppers, green beans, cucumber, sweet potato, yoghurt and strawberries. Brian and his family were also given a selection of presents carefully prepared and wrapped by their keeper Vicky. They then spent time investigating and unwrapping them to discover what was inside – one had a bottle with some food and Brian worked out how to tip this up to get to the food.
Park Manager, Richard Robinson, says, “Brian’s larger-than-life character has been a big hit with visitors for many years. Whether he’s dancing, swinging, sunbathing or just surveying the view from high up in the old oak tree, Brian is always the centre of attention and some of our visitors even start dancing alongside him too! We don’t know the precise date and time of Brian’s birth for sure, but May is our best estimate, based on the original records we have from London Zoo. All of the keepers here just want to give him the milestone birthday he deserves, with some extra special treats.”
Education and Marketing Co-ordinator, Lucy Dunn, says Brian’s birthday treats are more than just a bit of frivolous fun. She adds, “Animals living in the wild need to find food, be aware of predators and spend much of their day being active. So for Brian’s physical and mental stimulation, unwrapping and opening presents to discover food inside has a serious side too. It’s really satisfying to watch Lar Gibbons working this out and in effect, foraging for their food.
“The birthday cake was a bit of a treat for Brian and the other Lar Gibbons; the ingredients form part of their regular dietary requirements, with some extra treats like banana and honey that they only get occasionally, all carefully calculated by Vicky. The Gibbons don’t normally consume their food in the shape of a cake, so it was a different and interesting experience for them.”
Gibbons are the smallest member of the ape family and use their extra-long arms and hands to help them move quickly through the trees. Brian lives at the Lake District Wildlife Park with his lifetime partner Sooty, a large black female, and two of their offspring. Two of their older siblings also live at another wildlife park in Devon.