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What not to do in front of a gorilla?

What Happens If You Start Pounding Your Chest In Front Of A Gorilla?

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Like a few others here, I’ve crossed the line into the Land of the Stupid, and did exactly what this question asks.

I was at the San Francisco Zoo, and the area from which one observes the gorillas is several feet above the enclosure and protected by very thick and (I sincerely hope) difficult to break glass.

I observed a male gorilla minding his own business, munching on…something. Being human, I wanted to know exactly how he would react to being “challenged” on his home turf.

I made sure that he was looking right at me. Then, I puffed out my chest, and proceeded to pound on it with both fists, yelling at him the whole time. Well…he then stood up to his full height, which is WAAAY taller than you might think, and showed me how to PROPERLY do the whole chest thumping thing. And the yelling thing.

I’ve had guns pointed at me a few times in my life. I’ve been threatened with knives. I’ve even been around explosives a time or two. Never in my life have I been so frightened. Not once. I managed — barely — to not ruin my trousers, but believe me, unless you have personally witnessed the full-on, serious challenge of a gorilla, you have no idea how truly magnificent these beasts are. The raw power, the impressive size, the…majesty, I guess…is beyond the ability of any video to fully capture. And as much as I am trying, the words fall far, far short of conveying the full impact of the scene.

Suffice to say, I quickly averted my gaze, and moved on to other, FAR less intimidating animals. The flamingos were very nice to look at, and didn’t challenge me at all.

Gorillas got spied on and we see them singing and farting

Filmmakers at John Downer Productions came up with a genius way to record animals in their natural habitat. They employed lifelike robots made to resemble the creatures and had these “ultra-realistic animatronic” spies to go undercover and capture unique animal behavior from up close. One of these secret agents, a gorilla, became a true star of the show. As it was embedded in the wild, it did such a wonderful job of infiltrating the giant apes, it came back with some never-before-seen footage of these guys singing. And farting.

“Firstly, we need to work out what spy animals would be best to film the animal. So, for example, it would not be a good idea to make a spy Silverback Mountain gorilla, as this could be seen as too much of a threat to the real mountain gorillas. Therefore, we went with a baby gorilla,” filmmaker Matt Gordon explained.

Watch the spy gorilla in action

Even though it was the first time humans recorded the apes singing, we’ve already known about it. A 2016 study published in PLOS ONE detailed this “food-calling”, describing the great apes making vocal sounds when gathering and eating food, with pitches and durations depending on the quantity and quality of the food and the audience.

The study authors stated that this discovery provides an interesting viewpoint on the evolution of language and vocal communication in general. The filmmakers gave the phenomenon a poetic name — chorus of appreciation.

The filmmakers also shared a clip of the spy gorilla infiltrating the wild family

WATCH: Gorilla Cracks Glass Enclosure in Response to Little Girl’s ‘Chest-Beating’

(BULL DOG / YouTube)

Well, this is nothing short of terrifying. Late last week, footage was released of an incident at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in the US of a male silverback gorilla being accidentally provoked by a little girl engaging in some classic ‘chest-beating’ behaviour. The gorilla proceeds to rush at the crowd of spectators and use the full force of its weight to crack the window of its glass enclosure.

Named Kijito, this 20-year-old male western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), weighs an impressive 170 kg (375 pounds).

Hopefully the little girl wasn’t too traumatised by the incident, because it can actually teach us a couple of really fascinating and valuable things about captive gorillas. Firstly, no one was ever actually in any real danger, because that glass window is three half-inch layers thick, and Kijito was only able to break through one of them.

«The zoo said the glass on the exhibit is engineered to account for the size, strength and speed of a large male gorilla,» local news station KETV Omaha reports. «The glass has three layers, and each layer alone can withstand a gorilla’s force. While one layer of glass did crack, leaving two layers untouched, the exhibit remains open.»

Secondly, while it’s easy to assume that the gorilla was retaliating against the little girl, it’s more likely that it was showing off to the other gorilla you can see in the footage, says Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium zookeeper, Dan Cassidy. «Although the gorilla may have been engaging with the public to receive a reaction, the gorilla was most likely exhibiting typical gorilla behaviour and likely posturing toward another male gorilla,» he told KETV. «It is common for male gorillas to display to each other, and occasionally they use the glass because of the noise it makes on their side.»

Cassidy adds that the gorillas aren’t forced to be on display and be exposed to the public and their insensitive chest-beating all the time — they have the choice to go somewhere more private in their enclosure if they wish.

Chest-beating might be the most well-known aggressive gorilla behaviour, but it’s certainly not the most commonly used. Gorilla intraspecies communication is incredibly complex, involving 25 distinct vocalisations, ranging from grunts, belches and barks to ear-splitting screams and roars, and and a nine-step threat display that aims to settle territorial disputes in a non-violent manner.

According to the book, Where War Lives: A Journey Into the Heart of War, by Canadian-born photojournalist Paul Watson, this ritual plays out like so:

«A mountain gorilla normally goes through nine escalating steps before violence becomes a final option. He starts by hooting, slowly, then faster. The he performs a feeding ritual. If he needs to say more, he rises up on two feet, throws vegetation around, and pounds his chest with cupped hands. If the matter is still unresolved, he kicks the air with one leg, then runs sideways, thrashes at the vegetation, and finally, thumps the ground with his palms.»

You’d really want to back yourself if you were on the receiving end of all that from 170 kilograms of sheer muscle.

Source: KETV

Gorillas Beat Their Chests to Communicate With Each Other

Elizabeth Gamillo

Gorillas in films such as King Kong and Tarzan are depicted aggressively beating their chests when under threat. While the behavior is observed in male gorillas in the wild and researchers have speculated about what the behavior might mean, there hasn’t been enough research to establish a consensus. Researchers suspect the gorillas exhibit this behavior not to instigate fights, but to prevent them—and chest-pummeling could be used to advertise their body size to other gorillas, reports Jason Bittel for National Geographic. The study was published last week in Scientific Reports.

Scientists observed 25 wild male mountain gorillas for over 3,000 hours at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda between 2014 and 2016, National Geographic reports. The research team used audio equipment to record the sound frequency, rate, duration, and amount of chest pounds. To determine each gorilla’s size, the researchers used cameras with lasers to photograph and measure each gorilla’s back, reports Nicola Davis for the Guardian.

While the rate, duration, and amount of beats did not correlate with the size of the gorillas, but sound frequency did, the Guardian reports. The team also noticed that larger gorillas produced deeper-toned chest drumming. Previous research has shown that a gorilla’s larger body size is linked to reproductive success and social rank, the Guardian reports. The chest-beating could be another way for the gorillas to convey their size to others and, in turn, avoid fights that could result in serious injury or death.

«The smaller one presumably says: ‘Right, you are bigger. There is no point in me fighting you because I am likely to lose. I am likely to get injured. This is not good for me, and so I am just going to retreat’,» says co-author Edward Wright from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology to the Guardian.

While gorillas can obviously observe size just by getting a good look at their peers, the researchers suggest chest-beating is more reliable when trying to communicate through a dense forest habitat, reports Bryan Lawver for Inverse. The mighty percussions gorillas create by cupping their hands over their chests is powerful enough to travel long distances through thick forests and signal to others their mating status, size, and fighting ability, reports National Geographic.

Researchers are unsure why larger gorillas’ chests produce a lower frequency but suspect that it may be because air sacs near their larynx are also larger, Inverse reports.

Primate expert Anna Nekaris of Oxford University, who was not part of the study, told the Guardian that the study showed humans are not the only mammals that make use of body language. Nekaris notes it would be interesting to see if smaller gorillas can mimic the deep tones of larger ones in future studies.

«What will be interesting in future is if smaller gorillas with narrower backs or chests would be able to mimic larger ones – and a study like this can lead the way for further [research] to see how animals might be capable of manipulating ‘honest’ signals,» Nekaris tells the Guardian.

For now, the researchers will continue to study chest-beating to see if the action can convey other information, such as dominance rank, sex, age, and individual identity, to nearby gorillas, Inverse reports.

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Elizabeth Gamillo

Elizabeth Gamillo is a daily correspondent for Smithsonian and a science journalist based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has written for Science magazine as their 2018 AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Intern.

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