As parents, we’re often warned (or scolded) about the dangers of too much screen time. We do need to be aware of it, but sometimes those screens can make for the most unlikely connections – as was the case with two children and Jelani, a 26-year-old western lowland gorilla at the Louisville Zoo.
In a video recently shared on TikTok, two children hold their tablet up to the glass window so Jelani can get a closer look. Jelani stares intently at the screen. After about thirty seconds, Jenali makes a move that looks like he’ll walk away. But nope, he’s just leaning down, getting comfy, and settling in to watch more.
Melt our hearts.
Enthralled with the photos and videos, he leans closer and taps the window to “scroll” through the photos. His new friend holding the tablet is happy to oblige.
This isn’t the first time Jelani’s interactions with zoo visitors have gone viral. In fact, he’s internet-famous for his connections with guests and their smartphones or tablets.
“He definitely differentiates between pictures of gorillas, that’s his favorite, chimps or other monkeys too,” Jill Katka, supervisor of the zoo’s Gorilla Forest exhibit, told USA Today in 2017. “Pictures of people are OK, but dogs and cats not so much, and pictures of buildings, he’s not even interested.”
“When the gorillas are on exhibit the people are their TV,” Katka said. “They interact with the people and are interested in what the people are doing. They really like people watching, they know what’s going on. … . Jelani is very personable and really likes to hang around us. He wants to see what we are doing.”
In 2022, Jenali had abdominal surgery to remove an abdominal mass, repair a perforated intestine and treat a localized infection. Fortunately, according to the most recent updates, he fully recovered.
Jelani is one of many gorillas who likes to connect with human guests. In 2022, TikTok user @maitekate, who’s a zookeeper, posted a video of her introducing her baby to one of the gorillas she cares for after going on maternity leave. At first, the gorilla was a bit uninterested, but eventually the gorilla moved closer to the window and lay down in front of the baby.
In another viral video, when Kiki, a gorilla at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, spotted a new mom and her baby, she immediately became enthralled. New mom Emmelina Austin held her five-week-old son Canyon to the glass, and Kiki spent nearly five minutes gleefully pointing and gazing at the baby.
“That is so sweet,” one visitor says in the video.