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LA Zoo makes way for Nintendo - gorillas share their space with Donkey Kong barrels

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The gorillas at the L.A. Zoo got a surprise addition to their habitat this long weekend: Donkey Kong barrels.

The zoo is partnering with Nintendo to promote the latest installment of the popular video game franchise. "Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D" was released today, so for the holiday weekend, the gorilla habitat will be named Donkey Kong Country.

As part of the promotion, gorillas at the zoo were fed out of cardboard barrels, replicas of the famous barrels from the Donkey Kong game.  After the gorillas finished eating, the barrels were left scattered around the enclosure. 

"I see Nintendo DS and I think, 'Why is that at the zoo?'" said first grade teacher Ilana Page, who was visiting from Claremont with students on a field trip. "It seems a little depressing to me."

Ceasar Ruvalcaba, 14, didn't see a problem.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "I did not expect the Donkey Kong barrel."

Now if only the gorillas at the zoo would act more like the Donkey Kong he knows from the video games, he said mischievously.

"The amazing thing I would like to see is the monkey picking up the barrel," Ruvalcaba said.

Nintendo set up a line of stations to demo the game under a tent next to the gorilla exhibit. Workers handed out $5 coupons for the game.

Friday through Monday, the zoo's seven gorillas will eat lunch out of Donkey Kong barrels at 12:30 p.m. After the promotion ends, their habitat will return to normal.

Jason Jacobs, director of marketing and public relations for the zoo, called the partnership a "win-win." He described feeding the gorillas out of the promotional barrels as an "enrichment" for the animals.

"The Donkey Kong promotion is great because Donkey Kong is an iconic character," he said, adding that promotions like these help to recruit news zoo patrons. "Some people might come to the zoo this weekend who might not necessarily be huge zoo fans, but they're fans of Donkey Kong."

Jacobs declined to say how much Nintendo is paying the zoo for the partnership, but said corporate sponsorships are common and date back more than two decades. Microsoft was also at the zoo Friday promoting the new Windows mobile telephone.

The zoo's finances have been unsteady for some time. It's had a shortfall for the past three years, but city officials said the $7.7 billion city budget approved Thursday helps stabilize the nearly 50-year-0ld institution.

The zoo's partnership with the non-profit the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association will provide millions in marketing funding that will help bring the zoo out of the red, according to City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.

On Friday, self-described hardcore gamer Randy Skaug made the drive down from Lancaster specifically to see the Donkey Kong exhibit with his wife and daughter. He said plays 100 hours of video games per week.

He thinks the partnership was a great idea.

"It draws people away from video games," he said, "and sitting in front of TV."

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