Dieting with a gorilla

Shinda, photo: Khalil Baalbaki

Many Czechs are fed up with the corruption scandals that constantly fill the evening news and morning papers and look elsewhere for diversion. And, as always, Prague’s zoo is happy to provide it. Its reality show Unmasking launched in 2005 made its troupe of gorillas overnight celebrities and household names and did much to highlight the plight of gorillas in the wild.

Now the zoo is reaping the profits of this clever PR stunt. People know the gorillas by name, they know who’s bossy, who’s a bully and who’s having gorilla Richard’s baby. Now the spotlight is on 14-year-old Shinda, a female gorilla who has been put on a diet with the aim of losing 16 kilos - something that many Czechs find it easy to relate to. Shinda is as nervy and bad tempered as any person whose daily food ration has been halved, getting up in the middle of the night to forage for food and trying to nick something from her neighbours when their backs are turned. And her keeper Marek Ždánský says she’s even tried malingering in the hope of getting her favourite – now forbidden – fruits. In fact Shinda made such a show of suffering under the vegetables-only diet that public sympathy for her soared and turned against the keeper. People went on-line to point out that Mr. Ždánský himself could do with a diet and the keeper sportingly admitted that at 105 kilos he weighed just one kilo less than Shinda. After taking a ribbing from the other keepers he agreed to join Shinda on her diet and they are both aiming for the same target-weight of ninety kilos - Shinda so that she can safely conceive, Ždánský so that he would lose his beer belly. The vet’s orders thus launched a mini reality show in which the zoo’s employees are said to be placing bets. Both the gorilla and her keeper are now in the spotlight and will be publicly weighed on the same pair of scales on November 30th to make sure everything is above board. If they have achieved their target goal they will each get a treat – Shinda two litres of her favourite fruit juice, Ždánský five litres of champagne. But the real payback will be Shinda’s growing tummy and Ždánský’s flat one.