‘Gorilla’ in the Midst

Share via

A man in a gorilla suit is a staple in American comedy, and many a chuckle was chuckled Wednesday at the news of a federal agent in a gorilla suit serving as the bait in a sting operation. But the sting deserves applause as well as laughter, for the threat to the world’s few surviving gorillas is no joke.

The sting began when the federal Fish and Wildlife Service got a tip from a Miami dealer that two Mexican zoo officials were attempting to buy a gorilla to replace one that had died in a provincial zoo. The unsuspecting officials were shown various primates in Miami-area zoos and bought a gorilla for $92,500. Unfortunately for them, when they took delivery of their “live animal” (the disguised agent) at the Opa-Locka airport, they were immediately arrested.

In Canada and the United States, it is illegal for zoos to buy or sell gorillas.A majority of gorillas in North American zoos have been born in captivity, and even the shipment of a gorilla from one zoo to another is a rare occurrence.


And for good reason. According to Dan Wharton of the New York Zoo, the population of mountain gorillas is down from several thousand in the recent past to just 500, while even the more numerous lowland gorilla now numbers only 45,000.

Jared Diamond writes in “The Third Chimpanzee,” winner of last year’s Los Angeles Times Book Prize for science: “If present trends continue, the mountain gorilla . . . and possibly some other apes as well will exist only in zoos by the time this year’s crop of human babies enters college.” In short, the man in the gorilla suit was not just nabbing a pair of smugglers, he was saving the real gorilla.