Gorillas, and apes in general, are among the most intelligent in the animal kingdom. However, their considerable size and defense mechanisms can make them intimidating.
Are gorillas dangerous, or are they less scary than they look?
Most of us only know gorillas from their portrayal in movies like King Kong and Tarzan, but how should we deal with gorillas if we encounter them in real life?
In this post, we’ll explore the danger they pose to humans. In addition, we’ll provide a guide to keeping safe when dealing with these wild creatures.
Are Gorillas Dangerous Creatures?
Yes, like most wild animals, gorillas are dangerous to humans. Their huge body size makes them extremely threatening to small animals and humans alike.
Gorillas are the largest of all primates. An adult male gorilla can weigh more than 180 kg and is about 6 ft tall. In addition, they also have sharp canines that can cause serious wounds.
However, gorillas aren’t inherently aggressive. They’re mostly shy and gentle animals that only respond violently when provoked or attacked.
These reserved creatures are native to Africa and live in the Congo, Cameron, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Usually, gorillas live on mountains or land together in groups called a troop or a band. A troop of gorillas can have from 2 to 40 members.
The troop consists of adult male gorillas (aka silverback gorillas), adult female gorillas, and young male gorillas (aka blackback gorillas).
In each group, there is a dominant silverback responsible for finding food and protecting females and the little gorillas against any threats.
Among their band, silverbacks are the natural leaders because they’re the biggest and heaviest of the bunch.
When other animals creep into the gorillas’ territory, the dominant silverback gets defensive and displays a show of power to drive the trespassing creatures away from the troop’s home.
Furthermore, if any of the gorillas are attacked, the silverback rises to the occasion and defends them against attacking animals.
In the same way, gorillas can find humans threatening and defend themselves against people who provoke them or trespass in their territories.
Are Habituated Gorillas Dangerous?
Since they’re much stronger than us, gorillas will always be threatening even if habituated. However, habituated gorillas are relatively less dangerous than wild gorillas. The reason behind this is adaptation.
Gorillas’ habituation is introducing humans to the environments of wild gorillas so they’re more acclimated to the presence of humans in their environment.
During the process, gorillas spend 3–5 years completing the habituation process to get comfortable around humans.
However, gorillas are still gorillas. You should always maintain a safe distance and refrain from making any sudden movements or noises that could provoke them.
Are Gorillas Dangerous During Habituation?
Yes, they are. during the habituation process, gorillas are yet to grow accustomed to the presence of people around them, making them more dangerous than habituated gorillas, but still less dangerous than wild ones.
Once they get used to the presence of humans, you should be able to get slightly closer to their nests without worrying about provoking them.
Can Gorillas Attack Humans?
Yes, a gorilla can attack a human, but only if a person provokes it first.
While rare, these incidents can happen when people aren’t careful when dealing with these wild creatures. Sadly, there have been incidents when gorillas attack humans, sometimes killing them.
While gorillas are herbivores, silverbacks have large and sharp canines that they can use to attack when threatened. In addition, they’re much bigger and stronger than humans. In other words, there’s no scenario where a human could beat a gorilla in a first fight.
When provoked, a silverback will begin by establishing some dominance. It may tap its chest and charge for a short distance toward the target. After that, the victim’s reaction decides what happens next.
If further provoked, a gorilla will then proceed to attack.
Are the Gorillas at Zoos Aggressive?
Gorillas can be more aggressive in captivity than in the wild. It depends on how the zookeepers are treating them, and how the people around them are behaving.
Gorillas are native to the wild, after all. Being somewhere far from home where creatures of different species are constantly around you can trigger an aggressive response.
Captivity and the large numbers of zoo visitors make for a stressful environment for gorillas that can make them act aggressively.
As such, the zoo should regulate the number of visitors that visit the gorillas daily to make the zoo less stressful for these animals.
As a visitor, you shouldn’t shout, beat your chest (yes some people do that), or do any behaviors that may provoke the animal.
What Happens If a Gorilla Attacks a Human?
When a human provokes gorillas, whether by being loud or coming closer than the animals would like, the leader of the troop considers that a challenge.
The silverback would make loud noises and beat his chest violently to assert his dominance. In addition, he might break and tear some trees or foliage in a bombastic show of power.
After this demonstration of strength, if the person didn’t back down, the gorilla might charge them until they’re a meter or less away from their victim.
Don’t be alarmed, this charge is also a display of power, and the gorilla won’t attack unless the person chooses to challenge the wild animal further.
However, their actual attack could be lethal, and what you do next decides the outcome of the attack.
What to Do If You’re Attacked by a Gorilla?
If a gorilla charges you, it can be hard to stay calm and not provoke it any further.
When silverbacks charge toward a threat, they’re trying to evaluate if any action is needed to protect their troop. Your mission is to convince them that you aren’t a threat.
In moments like this, our fight-or-flight instincts tend to kick in, but in this particular situation, these instincts can make the situation a lot worse than it is.
Don’t try to run or fight back when that happens. The sudden movement you make to turn around and run will provoke the gorilla even further. And trying to fight back is arguably the worst decision you can make at this point.
That’s why you shouldn’t make any sudden noises or movements. It’s essential to be as quiet as you can.
Additionally, don’t look the gorilla in the eyes because this could be considered a challenge to the leadership of the silverback.
Look down to the ground, crouch, and try to make yourself smaller so the gorilla doesn’t view you as a predator and dismiss you as a potential threat to their family.
After a little while, the gorilla will back away and leave you alone. Even then, you should retreat quietly and not attract any further attention.
How to Act Around Gorillas in the Zoo?
When around gorillas (in the zoo or their natural habitat), you should keep your distance and keep your voice low.
Whether you’re visiting gorillas in the zoo or going gorilla trekking, there will be a guide who will tell you what to do and what not to. Do your best to stick to those instructions to avoid harming yourself or the gorilla.
How to Stay Safe When Gorilla Trekking?
Here are some specific rules to avoid any unfortunate incidents with these animals when hiking in the gorillas’ natural habitat.
- Don’t raise your voice while in the proximity of the gorillas. Keep your voice down and only whisper to your group so you won’t upset the animals.
- Don’t get too close to the troop of gorillas, so you won’t disturb or threaten them. You should keep a 21 ft distance between you and the gorilla troop for them to stay relaxed.
- Stay with your group and don’t stray and go near the gorillas. Keep away from baby gorillas especially, because the mothers can be very protective and dangerous to strangers who approach them.
- Stay close to the guide and follow their instructions, especially if a gorilla charges you.
- Don’t eat or drink while near the gorillas.
- Don’t use the flash because it startles and agitates the gorillas, which can make them aggressive. Take photos carefully and move slowly to take them.
- Don’t ever touch the gorillas, especially the babies that can directly lead to a charge from the dominant silverback because he’ll consider this an attack against the troop he’s protecting.
- Don’t look the gorillas in the eyes directly because that can further provoke an agitated gorilla.
- Don’t make any sudden movements or run.
- You can only stay around the gorillas for a short while (preferably no more than an hour), so leave immediately when the guide asks you to because the animals can get agitated and aggressive.
To Sum It All Up
Are Gorillas dangerous and aggressive, or are they peaceful?
Gorillas are shy, peaceful, and laid back, but they’re extremely dangerous when provoked or threatened because of their massive size and strength.
When in their proximity, you should keep your distance and avoid any sudden movements or sounds that could irritate them.
If you find yourself in an unfortunate situation where a gorilla is charing you, fight your urge to run and crouch slowly on the ground. This will make you smaller and reduce the “threat” meter in the gorilla’s eyes.