Touched by a mountain gorilla

This video clip has been around since 2011, but it may be new for you. It documents photographer John King's "an amazing chance encounter with a troop of wild mountain gorillas near Bwindi National Park, Uganda," and at around 3 minutes in, shows a cameraman being curiously poked and cuddled by a female and her babies. Definitely a cure for any case of the bummers you may be experiencing today. Don't miss the look the gorilla gives the human around 5:11, before it walks away. As a commenter put it, "ALPHA AS FUCK."


  1. “That was the most amazing experience of my career. Now, please excuse me; I have to change my shorts.”

  2. Yeah, very cool.
    I’d have a hard time not freaking out though.  Those silverbacks could literally rip a grown man’s leg off at the hip.  And they’re wild animals you know, unpredictable, maybe the male gets worked up or something.  I’m a worryier I guess.

    Again very cool.  But I’d probably be one of the people just getting out of the gorillas’ way in a real hurry.  There’s a reason why they’re behind 4 inches of reinforced plexiglass at the zoo.  And I wouldn’t trust myself to stay calm, and composed around an animal that powerful face to face.

    1. They can do all those things, but they aren’t really very aggressive most of the time. I was struck by how gentle they were, even when dealing with other male gorillas for mating with other females. We watched one male mating with a female and the dominant silverback decided he’d had enough of that. So he strolled over, nudged the male away with his hip, picked up the female and carried her four feet away and started doing his thing. The younger male had this very odd posture the whole time, almost like he was upset but too cowed to do anything about it. But no violence, not raised voices.

      1. Yeah, the media as of late, has been portraying gorillas as “gentle giants”, and I’m sure most of the time it’s true, from the accounts of researchers I’ve seen and read.  But just the immense power, and the intelligence they possess are awe inspiring, and quite frankly terrifying, and I’d rather encounter a bear that a silverback gorilla.  But that’s probably because I have training for how to deal with bear encounters, and have seen bears out in the wild (from the safety of my canoe)

        Gorillas are just amazing animals, and it’s tragic how threatened they’ve become due to poaching and habitat destruction.  Heh, sometimes I get worked up reading NatGeo and other stuff, and start to think it would be a good idea to put bounties on poachers.  See how they like being hunted for sport and commerce.

        1. I thought this was interesting:

          “The dominant silverback is responsible for the protection and safety of the troop. When in a threatening situation, the silverback will ferociously beat its chest, produce loud scowling vocalizations and a pungent odor (which humans can detect from over 25 yards away), throw vegetation and charge at its opponent or intruder. Researchers have discovered that 99% of their charges are bluffs; providing the rest of the troop time for retreating to a safe distance. However if pressed, the silverback will follow through with his threat.”


          The article also explains that the silverback “can terminate troublesome behavior with just a look.”

    2. Even so, the safest thing to do is to take that submissive position like that guy did, He was good enough at it that I think some of the prodding the juveniles gave him was because they wanted to reassure him. It looked a lot like grooming. 

  3. My wife and I went into this forest on the Rwanda side of the border a few years back to see the mountain gorillas and it was truly amazing. We were part of a small (mostly foreign tourist) group led by rangers. There were a small team of trackers who stay on the mountain, tracking the gorilla groups, both to help improve the chances that the tourists will see the animals and protect them from poachers. The gorillas are just incredible and being with them, in their territory, makes you feel very vulnerable and close to them. You see the level of intelligence, you watch them evaluating you. We weren’t lucky enough to have the level of contact shown in the video, but we were about this close some of the time when the little ones got curious. You can back up all you like to try to maintain the recommended distance, but they just want to see who the weird newcomers are and play with them.

  4. I did notice that the guy had his head down, avoided direct eye-contact and made no sudden moves.  Very sensible, seemed to know what he was doing and not pushing it.
    Interesting that the young gorillas were looking at his hair, possibly wondering what the connection is between daddy silverback and this mostly non-hairy gorilla with quite a bit of grey hair.

    Impressive bit of video.

  5. Caution: Dork alert
    Did anyone else cry while they watched this?  Or, can anyone tell me why it made me cry?  Not sobbing  boo hoos, but more a-please don’t litter Native American (actually Italian American, or so I’ve been told)-tears rolling down cheeks cry.
    The look of pure joy on the touched man’s face was so really cool to see too.

  6. They are people. Not the same species as us, but still people. It’s very hard to know this and also know that they are killed for food or trophies, but I suppose there’s never been a time when that wasn’t true. There’s no real limit to our capacity for empathy, and so we will always push the boundaries right up to the point where our current behavior is also a tragic mistake.

  7. It’s difficult not to anthropomorphise something that’s very nearly human. As noted above I believe it was the guy’s grey hair that attracted their attention, perhaps that’s something the guides should be aware of, they could have offered him a hat or something.

    Plus, he was holding a camcorder the whole time. I understand him not making eye contact, but why didn’t he turn the camera around? Talk of a lost opportunity!

    1.  I agree that it was a lost opportunity, but, given that a camera might be confused (?) with a big eye, and eye contact it a big no-no, maybe…?

      That said, I’m completely sympathetic since, if I were in his position, I would also have missed the opportunity because I’d have been far too busy trying not to giggle with joy, cry with amazement at the beauty of these creatures, and piss myself with fear of the big one sitting. right. behind. me. — all at the same time — to even begin to think of my camera.

      1. Funny enough I did leave a comment in a separate thread on boingboing about big cats as to whether they would find the unblinking stare of a camera lens to be threatening territorial behaviour, but I think the great apes would be smart enough to see that the lens is attached to a small camera body and therefore isn’t a threat, plus it doesn’t have typical eye characteristics such as iris and pupil.

        But yeah, dude must’ve been all freaked out and probably kicked himself later when he thought of it.

      2. Maybe I am just justifying missing some of my own photoops with this statement, but there are some moments where I think it’s better to fully immerse yourself into the experience vs. of always trying to take a photo.

      3. But he actually was filming the whole time, that’s how the footage of the troop’s approach from the beginning was captured.  You can also see the second cameraman behind the troop, who seems to have rushed up to tape the other guy that was squatting in the second half.  Actually, I was a little shocked at how the second cameraman moved in, that was a risky move on his part, I think.

  8. “Daaa-aad, you said this Human Country Safari thing would be really great, but all they did is sit there!  BO-RING!  Next time I wanna go to Disney World.”

    I loved the way the alpha male (I guess he was?) sort of watched the young one checking the guy out and then put an arm over and herded him along, like, “Don’t get too close – it might bite, or have fleas or something…”

    What an amazing experience that must have been, though.  :-)

  9. the second best thing in the movie after the gorillas .. ?

    look at that GRIN in his face in the end …

Comments are closed.