At Philly Zoo, Louis the gorilla takes great strides to round up snacks

A silverback gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo has skyrocketed to international fame after a video of him walking like a human went viral.

In the video, 18-year-old Louis ambles across the yard with nearly perfect posture — and two fistfuls of tomatoes.

“Because they are one of the squishier foods, that does seem to be one of the reasons why he’ll walk upright so he won’t crush them in his hands when he’s knuckle-walking,” said Michael Stern, the zoo’s curator of primates and small mammals.

Stern and the keepers have seen Louis walk on two feet many times over the years, but he said it’s exciting that one of the zoo’s volunteer teachers finally filmed the silverback in the act.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“At this point, [the video] has gone all around the world, and he has become quite the celebrity,” Stern said.

While most gorillas can stand on two feet, Louis is the first at the Philadelphia Zoo to walk so frequently — and far.

“What’s unique about him is that he doesn’t just do it for a couple steps, he’ll really walk clear across the yard sometimes,” said Stern.

Most gorillas are on their feet less than 10 percent of the time, and the bipedal position is even more rare for a 470-pound silverback such as Louis.

Stern said Louis tends to walk around when he’s collecting food — especially when he’s rounding up those tomatoes, his favorite snack. Louis tries to collect his veggies quickly before Kuchimba, the other male gorilla in the bunch, can snag them.

Though gorillas are native to rainforests in Central Africa, mud is another thing that keeps Louis on his toes.

“As a species, they should be very used to mud, and, here at the zoo, he does not like the feel of mud on his hands … It does seem to be one of the reasons he walks upright,” Stern said. “I don’t know if I would go that far that he’s a clean freak, but he does even wipe [mud] off his hands when he gets it on there.”

Stern said he hopes the many visitors coming to see Louis are also inspired to learn more about western lowland gorillas, which are critically endangered in the wild.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal