you are a long-time member and resident of Pittsburgh,
chances are you know “George.” And
even if you are new to the area or the museums,
are still good that you have admired George at
least once. George is the lowland gorilla on display
the African Savannah section of Carnegie Museum
of Natural History.
George is a favorite exhibit
in the Museum of Natural History for at least
two reasons: he’s a
very attractive gorilla whose dark eyes and strong
impress many visitors, and he is fondly remembered
by many Pittsburghers from his playful days at
the Pittsburgh Zoo.
George is a beautiful specimen of a silverback
lowland gorilla,” says Suzanne McLaren,
Collection Manager. “And he was so popular
when he was at the zoo that people often come
for him because they remember visiting him at
the zoo before he died.”
By all accounts,
George was an amiable gorilla who adapted as
well as could be expected to his
at the Pittsburgh Zoo. He was frequently sighted
playing tug-of-war with visitors using a rubber
hose, splashing in rubber buckets full of water,
across puddles in his cage. Sadly, George died
in 1979 at the age of 14 of an inflammation of
which was caused by an abscessed tooth, after
residing at the Pittsburgh Zoo for 12 years.
Following George’s death, the staff at the
Pittsburgh Zoo asked the curators at the museum
if they would like to include George in an exhibit
the museum. At the time, the Museum of Natural
History was contemplating constructing new exhibit
that would display wildlife in its natural surroundings.
When George arrived, he served as the catalyst
to create the entire African Savannah currently
in the Museum of Natural History.
George came along at just the right time,” says
MacLaren. “He was the perfect focal point
for the very first diorama created to show animals
they appear in their natural African habitats.
It was a very big change for the museum,” says
MacLaren. “Prior to George’s arrival,
animals were simply displayed alone or in family
groupings in big mahogany glass cases. Since George
has been with us, all of our exhibits strive to
be much more realistic and to give people a better
of the whole natural environment.”
Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla
As a western lowland gorilla, George belongs to the
subspecies Gorilla gorilla gorilla. These gorillas
reside in higher densities in Gabon, Cameroon,
and western-central Africa.
Gorillas are the largest
and most powerful species of primate. They have
no tails and jet black skin.
Facial features include short muzzles, a prominent
brow ridge, large nostrils, and small eyes and
ears. Gorillas have large jaw muscles and broad,
teeth. Coarse, dark hair covers their entire bodies
except for the face, ears, hands, and feet. Generally,
the hair on the back and rump of older males grows
grey—which is what happened with George—and
they become known as silverbacks.
are herbivores, subsisting mainly on plants,
leaves, berries, ferns, and fibrous
They never completely strip vegetation of a single
area, and the rapid regrowth of the vegetation
they consume allows them to stay within a reasonably
location for extended periods of time.
As in humans, there is no fixed breeding season
for gorillas, and birth occurs after nine months
Infants grow at approximately twice the rate
of human babies, and remain dependent on their
three to four years. Females give birth at about
four-year intervals. However, a high mortality
rate means surviving offspring are produced on
only once every six to eight years. Wild gorillas
live between 35 and 40 years with some captive
gorillas living almost 50 years.
generally peaceful, shy, and amiable unless
threatened. They demonstrate aggression
by charging towards perceived intruders. However,
rarely hit the intruder; instead they rush
past and may charge again.
Gorillas band together in groups of five to
15. A typical group consists of one dominant
adult females with their young and, in some
cases, a smaller pack of less dominant males.
Currently, each gorilla subspecies is either
listed as endangered or critically endangered
in the wild
due primarily to deforestation—the forests
on which the gorillas depend in Africa are
slowly being cut down for timber and to make
way for agricultural
and industrial development.
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