People & GorillasZoos


  • Gorilla enclosure in Frankfurt Zoo (© Angela Meder)

Which species do zoo gorillas belong to?

Almost all gorillas in zoos today are western gorillas. Most of their ancestors came from the rainforests in Cameroon, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Until the 1970s, many thousands of gorillas died in attempts to capture young animals for zoos.

How long have gorillas been bred in zoos? How many gorillas are still kept in zoos?

The first gorilla was born in captivity in Columbus, Ohio, USA on 22 December 1956. However, the baby was raised by humans, not by its mother. In zoos, gorillas frequently reject their young: they do not let them nurse and may even mistreat them. In these cases, the infants are bottle-fed. Most gorillas living in zoos today have been born in captivity. This was different in 1976, when the gorilla was included in Appendix I of CITES: at that time, 403 out of 498 gorillas in captivity came from the wild (81%). At the end of 1991, 692 gorillas lived in zoos, 371 of which had been born in captivity. Towards the end of 2012, 856 gorillas living in zoos were registered in the International Gorilla Studbook; more than 700 of them had been born in captivity.

How species-appropriate is the keeping of gorillas in zoos?

The way gorillas are kept in zoos has much improved over the last few decades. Observations of wild gorillas have made a significant contribution to these improvements. Whereas the gorilla social structure can be emulated well in zoos, it is almost impossible to produce living conditions that resemble those in their natural habitat. Even so, when designing their enclosures, their needs can be taken into consideration. Many zoos have now acknowledged this. From the perspective of species conservation, keeping gorillas in captivity is only justified if they are given the best possible living conditions.

Memories - Working with Two Mountain Gorillas in the Cologne Zoo

June 2018

The two mountain gorillas from the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, Coco and Pucker, arrived in the Cologne Zoo in May 1969. At that time it was a very...[details]

Gorillas in our Midst: the Current Whereabouts of Coco and Pucker

June 2018

Dian Fossey's famous book Gorillas in the Mist (1983) contains several memorable episodes from her years of studying the mountain gorillas in the...[details]

A Tribute to Colo

July 2017

On 22 December 1956, the Columbus Zoo made history with the birth of the first zoo-born gorilla. Eventually named Colo in honor of her birthplace,...[details]

Geriatric Gorillas

January 2014

Colo (© Grahm S. Jones, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium)

December 22, 1956, was a historic day for the zoological world as we welcomed the first successful zoo gorilla birth - a female, eventually...[details]

EAZA Ape Campaign

December 2010

In 2011, European zoos will conduct a campaign for the conservation of apes. The campaign will have two targets: collecting 1 million euros for...[details]

Senkwekwe Centre

June 2010

Ndeze and Ndakasi in the Senkwekwe Centre (©

The two mountain gorilla orphans Ndeze and Ndakasi grew up in a house in Goma - a town full of dust and noise. These are certainly not suitable...[details]

Orphan Gorilla Reintroduction

June 2007

Available only within the Gorilla Journal PDF file[details]

Zoos Fight the Bushmeat Problem

June 2002

Available only within the Gorilla Journal PDF file.[details]

GRACE Center

June 2010

Ndjingala, who now lives in the GRACE Center (© PASA/DFGFI/Disney/MGVP)

The rumors began in early February 2010: Somewhere in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, an infant gorilla was being offered for sale. Some...[details]

Reintroduced Gorillas

June 2005

Available only within the Gorilla Journal PDF file.[details]

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