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Gorilla Play

Fact 1

Play is an important part of a young gorilla’s day.

Playing is healthy behavior for youngsters and is an important role in gorilla development. Play has great social value for them, as they learn how to interact with others and also form and reinforce bonds that may be useful later on. It also helps gorillas learn how to navigate their environment as they grow, and figure out how to handle their increasing strength.

Play is very important in the development of a young gorilla, and in cases where a youngster doesn’t have any playmates in the group, the mother or other adults will step in. Youngsters also engage in self-play, creatively using branches, vines or other objects in the environment like a human infant would use a toy.

Fact 2

Playing is seen most often among juveniles and younger infants as they make their first moves away from their mothers.

In the case of large gorilla groups – like the Pablo group that we monitor daily – youngsters frequently change play partners and playing sessions can last for quite some time. Youngsters at play can be very adventurous, hanging from branches and vines, chasing each other around trees, or rolling down hills. Some of the other play behaviors we observe include wrestling, spinning, and tickling each other with their mouths. This type of tickling can result in loud and long vocalizations similar to laughter.

While play is most often seen between juveniles, that doesn’t stop the adults from joining in on the fun! You may see adults playing with juveniles, and sometimes adults playing with other adults!

Fact 3

Gorillas love to play wrestle!

Just like some human children, gorillas will sometimes wrestle with each other during bouts of play! During this type of play, you may see the gorillas rolling around, jumping on other individuals (even mom and other adults who aren’t playing), and sometimes even play biting and hitting.

Fact 4

Many people mistake gorilla play as aggression.

Gorillas are much stronger than the average human, so it only makes sense that their style of play would reflect that strength! Because of this, humans watching gorilla play may think that an individual is getting hurt even though they usually are not. When watching gorilla play videos, be sure to turn up your volume to hear the gorillas laughing! But, keep in mind that while humans share many similarities to gorillas, their laughter also sounds very different! You can also see gorilla play faces, where the mouth is open, lower lip hanging and no teeth showing.

Fact 5

Sometimes gorillas like to play alone!

Play solicitations don’t always work out for a young gorilla, especially if the rest of the group is trying to take a midday nap. In those cases, a young gorilla may choose to play alone. As a form of solitary play, you may see gorillas spinning, leaping off of branches, or even rolling down hills!