Last month, Caters News Agency published an account about a “drunk” gorilla who punched a photographer, accompanied by some remarkable photos. The story was picked up verbatim by several media outlets and went viral. Here’s how the news agency framed the encounter:
“Completely drunk from eating bamboo stems, which ferment in gorillas’ stomachs causing them to become intoxicated, the primate, who is the leader of the Kwitonda Group, is said to have felt threatened by a rival male, causing him to become excitable and defensive of his territory.”`
One tiny little problem, though — it’s not true. While it’s true that some animals consume substances to get high, gorillas can’t get drunk from eating bamboo. Smithsonian magazine spoke to several experts who debunked the claims.
Just in case there was any shadow of a doubt, ANIMAL reached out to world renowned anthropologist, primatologist and PhD Mireya Mayor. She’s currently in Rwanda working with Virunga gorillas. “Gorillas have the same stomach as humans,” she explained. “They cannot ferment sugar into alcohol. They experience nothing more than a sugar high, not drunk.”
I shared this information with Caters and asked him if they had any plans to update the original article, considering how far the misinformation had spread. Editor Dan Thomas fielded my question with a bizarrely defensive response:
“What do you want from us? To say the gorilla was ‘high’? The scientist is only speculating herself about what may have happened. Perhaps the photographer was ‘too close’. Do you think perhaps it could have been a light weight? In the grand scheme of the news landscape where people are being beheaded this seems a bit strange to get worked up about.”
After reiterating my question, Thomas capitulated. “Yeah sure – this sounds fun,” he said, agreeing to offer a comment. But then he demurred again. “Thought you were an animal site looking at the science behind this? Doesn’t seem like you are – you have a porn section which isn’t really up our street,” he said. (We believe he was referring to this?) “More info would be great but if it doesn’t add anything to the Smithsonian article and you aren’t going to pay to license the image then we won’t be providing a comment.”
Under fair use law, ANIMAL did not end up paying for the photo, but we do hope that this piece demystifies the drunk gorilla myth, nicely complements Smithsonian’s piece and helps Mr. Thomas and Caters refrain from publishing anymore inaccurate information.
(Photo: Caters News Agency)