Guy the Gorilla: a life remembered
Wednesday 7 November 2007
Sixty years since Guy arrived, ZSL London Zoo remembers its gentle giant
Guy the Gorilla arrived in London from Paris Zoo on Guy Fawkes Night 1947. He arrived clutching a tin hot water bottle and weighing just 23lbs. Terrified by numerous fireworks going off overhead he wouldn’t settle without a keeper to sleep with him, thus earning the name Guy in honour of the night. He was just over one year old and was the first gorilla at the Zoo for six years.
To commemorate the diamond anniversary of Guy’s arrival a rare picture from ZSL’s private collection showing baby Guy shortly after his arrival has been made public.
Over the years Guy became one of the most popular animals in the history of the Zoo. When small birds, including sparrows, flew into his enclosure, Guy reportedly lifted them up in his hands and gently examined them before setting them down again. His gentle giant reputation delighted visitors, who flocked to see him in their millions over his 32-year life.
Guy really put the “giant” in to gentle giant too. Records kept in ZSL’s library show that in 1966, at his heaviest, Guy was a whopping 34 stones, stood 5ft 4in tall (with knees bent) and had a giant 9ft arm span. In 1971, during an operation, keepers measured the circumference of his biceps as a huge 23.5in, his thighs at 28in and his neck 36in – two inches bigger than an average man’s waist. Guy’s favourite foods were noted as cucumbers, melon, pineapple and dates.
Archives also reveal that Guy received a number of birthday cards every year on his official birthday (May 30th), including some from keepers in other zoos and dozens from visitors. One particularly enamoured couple, Mr and Mrs Wilfred Heaton, of Leeds, are recorded as spending a week of their holiday each year at ZSL London Zoo to be with Guy, and regularly sending him punnets of strawberries out of season.
The Zoo had been trying for many years to obtain a mate for Guy, but it was not until 1969 that we were offered a five-year-old female, Lomie. For the first year after her arrival Lomie was kept next door to Guy so the two could get to know each other. When they were eventually united they got on quite well but sadly failed to produce any offspring.
There are 16 members of staff including 10 zookeepers working at ZSL London Zoo who worked here during Guy’s life and he is still remembered with great affection. He is officially commemorated by a bronze statue, sculpted by William Timyn, in the centre of ZSL London Zoo’s Barclay Court.