Robot Gorilla Look-alike Records Wild Gorillas Singing

ugandan gorillas hum duets while eating

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Filmmakers captured wild mountain gorillas in Uganda singing duet-like songs, LiveScience reported. They used a robotic gorilla look-alike to capture the behavior for the first time in history. Mountain gorilla behavior is often like our own.

Family of mountain gorillas
Wild mountain gorillas accepted a robotic “spy gorilla,” outfitted with a camera, as one of their own and footage caught them singing while eating. Photos by Onyx9 / Shutterstock

Filmmakers used a robotic “spy gorilla” to capture mountain gorilla behavior for a PBS documentary called Nature: Spy in the Wild 2. The documentary is a sequel to a 2017 program that used similar techniques to film animals’ natural behaviors when cameras and humans are far less obvious. Even more spectacular than the technique is what they recorded.

“Footage of the singing gorillas is featured in the first episode of Spy in the Wild 2 and shows the apes reclining amid dense foliage in a sanctuary in Uganda,” the LiveScience article said. “As they munched on leaves and stems, they hummed to themselves in contentment, accompanying their vegetarian meal with a vocal ‘chorus of appreciation,’ according to the episode’s narrator.”

Mountain gorillas are endangered, but their behaviors have been well-documented—and they share other traits with us besides singing.

Gorilla Taxonomy

The planet’s great apes feature prominently in observational safaris in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Gorillas are among them.

“There are two separate species of gorilla: the western gorilla and the eastern gorilla,” said James Currie, host of Nikon’s Birding Adventures TV. “The mountain gorilla and the Grauer’s gorilla belong to the eastern species, and the western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla belong to the western species. The gorillas we see in the highlands of these countries are the mountain gorillas, and they are considered endangered.”

Currie added that the differences between mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas are subtle. Grauer’s gorillas have slightly larger hands and shorter muzzles; whereas, mountain gorillas have longer hair and larger facial features. Additionally, Grauer’s gorillas spend their time in the trees, while mountain gorillas stick to the ground.

Monkey Business

Aside from singing, mountain gorillas exhibit a wide range of social behaviors, many of which were first documented by the late primatologist Dian Fossey.

“Mountain gorilla groups are led by a dominant male called a silverback, which can stand at 6 feet tall and can weigh as much as 400 pounds—sometimes even a little bit more,” Currie said. “The ‘silverback’ refers to the silver mantle of fur on the back of all mature male gorillas. The mantle is not specific to the dominant male of the group, so there might be a few males in the group with identifying silver pelts, but only one will be in charge.”

The dominant male has the right to mate with any females in the group that he wants; he also selects where they will move to eat and nest, Currie said. However, these privileges come with the responsibilities of protecting the group, especially his family. If the silverback dies, others may vie for his place.

“To keep genetic diversity strong, both males and females might leave their natal groups in search of new ones,” Currie said. “Males become dominant at around 12 to 14 years old, and females start giving birth around the age of 10, waiting around four years in between each infant. These babies are born as tiny, 5-pound bundles, not unlike humans, but they mature twice as fast—as the youngsters develop, they are as curious and playful as human toddlers, investigating and exploring with uncannily human-like tendencies.”

Gorillas’ social behaviors often compare to those of humans. Singing is just one of our qualities that overlap. Unfortunately, cameras have yet to capture any gorillas performing a guitar solo.

James Currie contributed to this article. Currie is a safari guide with the world-renowned company Wilderness Safaris. He holds a bachelor’s degree in African Languages from the University of Cape Town and a master’s degree in Sustainable Environmental Management from Middlesex University London.