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Sue Holland

Gorilla Dies at Animal Kingdom

Friday, May 23, 2001
Text and photos by Sue Holland, MousePlanet staff writer

Recently, 10-year-old Chuma, one of the five gorillas in the group of “bachelors” at Disney's Animal Kingdom, died from an infection caused by bite wounds from Gus, one of the other gorillas. This is the first gorilla death at the park, which opened in April 1998. Chuma came to Animal Kingdom from the Cincinnati Zoo. Gus is 18 or 19 years old, and is the dominant male silverback of the group, a sexually mature male marked with silver hair on his back.

It was reported that a couple of weeks prior, Chuma had gotten into a fight with Gus. The young gorilla was coming of age, and most likely asserting himself — natural behavior in the wild but possibly dangerous in confinement. There are five male bachelors that live together on the side of the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail not inhabited by the family (male, females, and young) of gorillas. As they reach sexual maturity, their instinct is to find a female and also to assert their dominance of the group. At Animal Kingdom, they can see and smell the females just across the bridge, yet cannot reach them — which I imagine must be frustrating to the males. However, the Species Survival Plan — a separate board that controls the movement of gorillas in captivity — calls for the segregating of males to better provide for their housing needs, since males so far outnumber the females. This, of course, supports Disney's design of this habitat.


Gus, the dominant male silverback, was simply defending his position as the leader of the group. Had this occurred in the wild, Chuma would have simply gone elsewhere to form his own group. Instead, in captivity he had no place to go, and Gus could not overlook the “attack.” Mix his frustration over not being able to reach the females with the natural aggression of a younger gorilla approaching his own maturity, and the result was this very sad outcome.


Right from the opening of the park, the gorilla area has been very popular with guests. Whether it's their incredible strength or the amazing similarities to humans, people are generally awed to see them at such close range. Unfortunately, many of our human behaviors are not tolerated well by gorillas — including making faces at them, making loud noises, and generally mimicking what humans perceive to be gorilla behaviors. In fact, many of these behaviors are interpreted as signs of aggression by the gorillas, and they may turn their back to the crowd or leave the area to get away from those annoying human creatures. When the crowd is quiet and respectful, the gorillas are comfortable moving around, perhaps playing with one another, and that is a beautiful sight to see.

Disney put a great deal of thought into the design, and has spent a lot of money to create an environment for these incredible animals, but I wonder if altering their natural behavior for the benefit of human guests can be overcome by re-creating a simulated physical environment. It's very possible this tragedy could not have been avoided, but hopefully anything that can be learned from the gorilla's untimely death will reduce the risk to the others.

Contact Sue at sue.holland@mouseplanet.com.


Read about the Species Survial Plan for gorillas, prepared by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. The report dates back to 1996, and provides some background on what is being done to support the survival of these great apes.


Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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