Navigation Menu+

Mohawks and Metro Mode

Posted on June 6, 2013 by in The OFI Blog

Laura Bergner

On Wednesday, June 5, 2013, The Primate Team at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park gave a special VIP tour of the Great Ape House to fifteen lucky Smithsonian Interns/Fellows (and two intern parents!).  We were warned before entering the Great Ape House that one of the male gorillas had been very active and aggressive that morning.  The tour leader suggested that none of us look him straight in the eye.  Although human primates have been taught that direct eye contact is “how to win friends and influence people,” gorillas interpret this as a sign of aggression.  Participants dutifully went into “subway mode,” when you risk popping a blood vessel trying so hard not to make eye contact with your fellow riders.  The gorillas seemed to respect our efforts as they climbed and foraged just feet from the tour group. 


We learned what gorillas eat (plants) and what they don’t eat (humans).  Male gorillas may be aggressive with each other to declare their dominance but no serious harm is inflicted when they fight.  They mostly thump their chests and throw grass – like my eighth grade gym teacher, but not as scary.  Have you ever wondered why gorillas have carnivorous looking teeth when they are herbivores?  Do you want to know how a keeper gives a gorilla an injection?  Why do male gorillas look like they have Mohawks?  Get to the Great Ape House and find out! 

Intern, Ryann Price contributed to this post