Statue of Guy the Gorilla – London, England - Atlas Obscura
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London, England

Statue of Guy the Gorilla

A sculpture of a famous ape who was once a beloved household name in London. 

Many statues adorn the Crystal Palace Park in London, which is famous for its Victorian dinosaur diorama. But there is one artwork that is often missed by visitors: a sculpture of a gigantic gorilla. Contrary to current popular opinion, this is not a shrine to the meme of Harambe, but a memorial to an animal who was once a popular resident of the city, a gorilla named Guy. 

Guy was a western lowland gorilla captured in the 1940s in the jungles of Cameroon, then a French colony. In those days gorillas were exceptionally hard animals to breed in captivity, and zoos obtained these apes through the brutally cruel practice of capturing them in the wild. Often, the mother gorilla was killed and her infant stolen and shipped abroad to spend its life in a zoo. 

Captured at just a year old, Guy had originally been destined for the Paris zoological garden but was ultimately sent to the London Zoo, which had not kept gorillas for many years, in exchange for a Bengal tiger. He arrived at the zoo in 1947, and as the day of his arrival coincided with the English celebration of Guy Fawkes night, the little ape was christened Guy.  

Guy soon became the most popular animal at the zoo due to his quiet but playful nature, which touched the thousands of visitors who passed by his cage. The young gorilla grew into a gentle giant whose ferocious appearance bellied his remarkably tender-hearted character. He was even seen lifting sparrows that flew into his cage to forage in the straw up in his enormous hands, stroking their feathers while examining them with great care before letting them fly away unhurt. 

Although the zoological society tried for many years to find Guy a mate, by the time a female gorilla had been found and brought to the zoo he had become so acclimated to his new life that he preferred the company and attention of humans. The introduction was unsuccessful, and Guy remained a solitary silverback bachelor for the rest of his life.

In the 1960s, during the pre-production of Stanley Kubrick’s science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey, Guy the gorilla was studied by the actor Dan Richter who played the role of the ape-man Moon Watcher in the prehistoric sequences of the movie. Kubrick suggested this as he wanted the actor to closely mimic the real-life ape behavior and body language. Guy remained a beloved fixture of the London zoo until 1978, when he underwent an operation to treat a tooth infection that’d been caused by being fed too many sweets by the adoring public. Sadly, Guy died of cardiac arrest while under anesthesia, a common cause of death for gorillas in captivity.  

Know Before You Go

The statue of Guy can be found in Crystal Palace Park on the north shore of the boating lake and fairly close to the cafe. The taxidermy specimen of Guy the gorilla can be seen in London's Natural History Museum just outside the "Treasures" gallery.

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