Guy the Gorilla
Guy the Gorilla (1946 – 1978) was a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) who was London Zoo's famous resident, something of a celebrity in the 1960s–70s and was often profiled on children's TV shows and natural history productions. Guy the Gorilla was one of London Zoo's best-loved animals. The exact day of Guy's birth was never known, but the official birthday was set by the Zoo as May 30, and he received large numbers of cards every year.
Guy arrived at the zoo on 5 November 1947, Guy Fawkes Night, hence his name. He was a tiny baby, weighing just 23 lb (10 kg) and holding a small tin hot-water bottle. Guy was the replacement for the zoo's previous gorilla, Meng, who had died in 1941. Guy was captured in the French Cameroons on behalf of Paris Zoo and was traded for a tiger from Calcutta Zoo. It was organised that London Zoo would have Guy. The Paris Zoo Director sent instructions to their game department in West Africa to find a suitable female to mate with him.
During pre-production for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Dan Richter — who played the lead ape-man ("Moonwatcher") in the film — studied Guy intently and modelled his acting and mime performance partly on Guy's behaviour.
London sent a request to a variety of animal dealers and zoos worldwide to find a mate, and in 1969 the zoo was offered Lomie, a five year old female who had been living in nearby Chessington Zoo. She then lived for a year in the old Monkey House in London Zoo before being introduced to Guy. When the new Ape and Monkey House, the Michael Sobell Pavilion, was opened in 1971, Guy and Lomie were finally introduced. However, after 25 years of isolation, it was too late; they never produced any offspring.
Lowland gorillas are the world's largest primates. Males can weigh between 140 and 275 kg. Guy's dimensions as silverback were measured in 1966 and 1971: he weighed 520 lb (240 kg), was 5 ft 4 in (1.63 m) tall, and had an arm span of 9 ft (2.7 m). His upper arm had a circumference of 23.5 in (58 cm), his thighs 28 in (70 cm), and his neck 36 in (90 cm).
His appearance was fearsome, yet his nature was very gentle; when small birds flew into his cage, he was often seen to lift them on his hands and examine them softly. This gentleness is said to have been a major part of his great popularity.
Guy died aged 31 or 32, in 1978 of a heart attack during an operation on his infected teeth. By this time he had become an icon. Public awareness of animal behaviour had been growing, thanks to the ever-improving natural history programmes on television, while studies of wild apes by scientists like Jane Goodall, Biruté Galdikas and Diane Fossey were changing the public's attitude towards primates.
Guy remains one of London Zoo's most memorable former inhabitants.
- The Natural History Museum head taxidermist at the time of Guy's death, Arthur Hayward, was given the task of modelling and mounting Guy's skin. After nearly nine months of work, the magnificent re-creation of Guy was put on display at the Natural History Museum in November 1982. Years later, Guy was taken out of public display and moved into the scientific study collections. As of late 2012, however, he has been returned to public display as part of the permanent new 'Treasures' exhibition in the museum's Cadogan Gallery.
- In 1982, Guy was commemorated by a bronze statue by William Timym, located near London Zoo's main entrance, by the Michael Sobell Pavilion for Monkeys and Apes, where Guy spent his final years.
Notes and references
- "Guy the Gorilla: a life remembered", The Zoological Society of London, 7 November 2007.
- Dan Richter (interview), In: 2001: The Making of a Myth (2001), Channel 4, Available on the 2007 DVD Two-Disc Special Edition of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Richter is interviewed in front of the Timym statue. This featurette also includes a brief 1966 video clip of Guy.