Guy the gorilla

Guy the gorilla was one of London Zoo's best-loved residents. After his death, he lived on as a display and research specimen at the Natural History Museum.

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A star is born

Guy, a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), was born in what was then French Cameroon in Africa. He was captured as a baby on behalf of Paris Zoo and was eventually cared for by London Zoo. 

Guy the gorilla at London Zoo

Guy was very popular with visitors to London Zoo. © John Curtis / Rex Features

Clutching a hot water bottle, he arrived at the zoo aged 1 on Guy Fawkes Night in 1947, hence his name. Terrified by the fireworks, he wouldn't settle until a keeper slept alongside him.

Guy became one of the most popular animals in the zoo's history. Despite an occasional bad temper, he was known to carefully scoop up sparrows that flew into his enclosure, look at them, and then let them go. Millions of visitors fell in love with his gentle nature. 

Heart failure

It was during a dental operation in 1978 that Guy suffered heart failure and died. An autopsy revealed he had been obese. Autopsies of zoo animals whose life history is known are extremely valuable, helping us learn more about these species.

Museum Mammal Curator Richard Sabin with Guy

Museum Mammal Curator Richard Sabin with Guy.

Arrival at the Museum

Guy was brought to the Museum and head taxidermist Arthur Hayward spent 9 months painstakingly preparing him for display. Eventually, Guy was moved into the Museum's research collections. 

Mammal Curator Richard Sabin remembers Guy from a school trip to London Zoo. Banging on his window, Richard experienced the gorilla's temper first-hand when the 240kg hulk launched himself towards the schoolboy.

Western lowland gorillas in the wild

Critically endangered western lowland gorillas in the wild. © Ian Nichols / National Geographic / Getty Images

Gorilla conservation

Modern conservation zoos no longer accept animals that have been captured to order from the wild. 

The Zoological Society of London coordinates conservation programmes to protect gorillas and supports local communities in Africa to develop sustainable income from low-impact tourism. 

Conservation programmes and captive breeding are essential for the survival of western lowland gorillas, which are now critically endangered.

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Guy the gorilla story
Guy the gorilla at London Zoo

Guy was a much-loved character at London Zoo. Museum mammal curator Richard Sabin, ex-keeper Mick Carman, life-long fan George Fitt and taxidermist Derek Frampton introduce him.

Listen to or download the Guy the gorilla story 11min 10sec, 15.3MB

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