Zoo Gorillas Have Weird “Theatrical” Call, Experts Learn


| LAST UPDATE 08/17/2022

By Hayden Katz
zoo gorilla noise weird
Santi Visalli / Contributor via Getty Images

Researchers have just discovered that zoo gorillas are able to make a whole new sound. In the past, they knew that these species were able to grunt, hum, and grumble - but now they have uncovered a more peculiar noise they make: the snough. Here's what to know.

Primatologist Roberta Salmi of the University of Georgia in Athens has explained that she and her colleagues believe the zoo gorilla makes the sneezy cough sound as a way to get a human's attention. The sound, which is similar to both a cough and a sneeze (hence the name), is typically heard whenever the zookeepers are nearby to the gorilla cages and they have food. This type of sound has never been heard by wild gorillas, nor has it ever been described in this species before. So this new discovery helped Salmi and her team add more evidence to the research regarding captive apes producing novel vocal sounds.

gorilla zoo sound weird
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The first time the expert ever heard the snough was a few years back, and she admitted it was comical. "We actually laughed," she recalled. When the gorilla makes the noise, they open their mouths wide, and it almost looks like they are about to begin yodeling. Salmi explained, "It's very theatrical." But because it only was ever uttered when a zookeeper had food, the researchers were curious to see if they make the sound any other times. So they placed a camera to watch the 8 western lowland gorillas at Zoo Atlanta for three different scenarios. They discovered that the snough was used the most whenever a zookeeper and a bucket of fresh grapes were nearby. Along with the sound, the gorilla also clapped, batted on their chest, or banged on the enclosure to get the human's attention. But if the zookeeper was alone or the grapes were separate outside the cage, the species remained quiet.

“That’s quite decent evidence of the animals’ intention to request something from the keeper,” said Zanna Clay, a primatologist at Durham University in England who was not involved with the experiment. Salami and her team came up with a different hypothesis as to why the snoughing developed. “Coughing and sneezing are signs of a cold, which are signals that caregivers pay specific attention to,” she said. So perhaps all the gorillas want is some TLC... Stay tuned for updates. 

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