Keeping a pet ape

Would it be feasible to keep an ape as a pet? For example, a medium-sized gorilla?

First of all, would it be legal?

Secondly, could it be trained to use a toilet or some other form of sanitary waste disposal?

Could a gorilla be socialized with a human owner to the point where you would not need to keep it in a cage, and there would be no risk of it picking up things around the house and throwing them, or destroying stuff, or trying to attack its owner?

What would you feed the ape?

Could a gorilla be content to have a human as his only “friend” or would he go crazy without another gorilla to socialize with?

Is there any historical precedent for owning a pet gorilla?

Almost certainly it would be illegal without special permits. Unfortunately there is no simple answer because laws regarding keeping exotic animals differ all over the place but I think it is safe to say most areas would likely not be cool with pet gorillas.

Additionally I think gorillas are a protected species. So keeping one would probably need to overcome all those legal hurdles (mainly left for zoos and dedicated researchers).

Yes a gorilla can be sociable and remarkably well behaved. See Koko the gorilla as an example. Koko even had a pet cat. Note however that Koko has a dedicated staff of people looking after her and teaching her and she has been raised this way since she was a baby.

Gorillas are mostly vegetarians. Feed them lots and lots of fruits and vegetables.

If you got a baby gorilla and raised it in the same way that you would raise a baby human, talking to it, helping it with stuff until it figured it out on its own, always being kind to it, etc., would it grow up to be tame and easily-manageable?

If you did all that, eventually it would rip your arms off and beat you death with them.

But that column is about chimpanzees, not gorillas.

I would suspect that the only noticeable differences would be that gorillas are a little less agressive, but massively stronger. So in any given year of ape ownership, your gorilla would be less likely to wig out on you, but more likely to accidentally smear part of you like an over-ripe tomato.


There are huge state to state differences. A friend of mine has had several exotic pets. She purchased a pair of non-native squirrel at an auction in Ohio. Her husband built a chain link enclosure, incorporating a tree in their yard. After that huge expense, the state (Pennsylvania) forced her to return the squirrels to the seller. (The state found out about the squirrels when she called and asked if they were legal, btw)

On another occasion, at the same Ohio auction, she was thinking about purchasing a spider-type monkey. She bid and lost on several primates. Eventually she got a real deal/steal. Turned out she couldn’t see into the cage she bid on. It was a prepubescent orangutan. Once again, at great expense, her husband built an enclosure of chain link, encompassing their entire basement. She had a hanging tire, the works.

The ape lasted less than a year. When it got out it was very destructive. Also, my friend found that there were absolutely no veterinarians (myself included) who would see nonhuman primates. Searching frantically, my friend found someone who took the animal.

How is it that gorillas and chimpanzees are so much stronger than humans? Different muscle tissue? More of it? Better leverage?

My dad had a monkey from Japan when he was a kid (in addition to dozens of cats and dogs and some pigs). If they ever let it loose inside the house it would wreak havoc, and it always managed to get out of whatever makeshift enclosure they made for it, but it never ran away either. I think he finally bought a cage for it. Anyway, he says when they were short on fruits and nice stuff to give it he would just give it a bowl of rice and watch as it made a little trail to bait small birds with.

That said, I don’t doubt a gorilla could be trained to use the toilet (hell my grandma trained a cat to use the toilet–with perfect aim) but I’m not confident enough in my alpha male-ness to consider owning something like a gorilla. It would end up something like that Kafka story with the giant mosquito.

Much more efficient structure, says Cecil’s report above. Why that structure is more effective, he doesn’t say.

Human physiology is “tuned” toward making us most efficient at a few quite specific things, relative to other creatures: walking long distances (upright), critical analysis (ie. planning)- which requires a relatively massive brain, and delicate manipulation (ie. using ones’ hands). I think “walking long distances” is the key difference here.

IIRC, most primates, though much stronger than humans, don’t have the same sort of endurance; they’re generally not migratory, so they don’t need to be able to travel for a full day or longer, as proto-humans did. I’d guess, based on that, that that means their muscles contain a much higher percentage of fast-twitch fibers than ours.

what about one of those hippie sex chimps?

oh yeah… thebonobo

would they be more reasonable and laid back?

Plus, they spend more time climbing trees, which requires them to be able to lift their body weight. For a gorilla, that’s a non-trivial amount.

Gorillas and orangutans have much longer arms than humans. I would imagine that might give their biceps and triceps more leverage.

I suspect they’re probably not trainable in the way you’re thinking. And you really don’t want an animal that freakishly strong and wildly unpredictable going near your junk.

Since no one else has brought it up yet, I’ll link to the tragic story of Moe the chimp.



Your friend doesn’t seem to have much luck with exotic pets, but she sure seems to have the husband trained to jump at command. :wink:

As otherwise indicated, keeping primates as household pets is a very bad idea. Not only will they express atavistic behavior upon puberty, but despite looking kind-of human they aren’t really built to live in a human habitat; they need room to satisfy the innate desire to forage, and need to be socialized with other primates to develop in a healthy fashion. They also need constant attention and socialization or they’ll develop anxiety that makes a dog’s barking or a parrot’s feather stripping to be a minor problem in comparison. The small number of primates that are raised in captivity are generally raised by a team of primate specialists, and tended to by zoo veterinarians who are familiar with the illnesses these animals can suffer, many of which are transmissible between humans and apes; a minor illness in a human may be life-threatening in a primate.

And even small monkeys can be destructive. A gorilla or orangutan can literally tear through walls and furniture like a bear.

Not a good idea.


I’d venture that what happened to St. James Davis could also be considered tragic.



And people wonder why most veterinarians will not see primates!!

Monkey in a cup

You be amazed how permissive most states are with exotic pets. They say that there are more pet tigers in Texas than those in the wild in India. You can buy virtually anything on the web although I am not sure about gorillas but chimps are probably easy to find.

Pet tigers are cheaper than some dog breeds and can be had for less than $1000 in some cases. Google “buy exotic pet” and you will get lots of sellers. Here is one:

Yeah, if you want an exotic pet, go with something safe and predictable and easy like a pet tiger. And I’m not kidding, a pet tiger is going to be an order of magnitude easier to keep than a “pet” gorilla.

Lions and tigers are easy to breed in captivity, and they produce litters of several cubs. And owners of big cats constantly find that they’re harder to care for than anticipated :rolleyes: , so there are always plenty of people trying to find homes for big cats. The limiting factor isn’t the supply of captive big cats, the limiting factor is finding space for all of them.

You can’t get a gorilla and expect to treat it like a pet. Rather, expect to have to treat it like an immensely strong and aggressive but developmentally disabled human. How does spending the rest of your life caring for Lenny from “Of Mice And Men” sound? With the added complication that Lenny can’t talk?

As referenced in my link above, I have no idea who would want a pet hyena. They are gross, ugly and aggressive. Why would someone want one of those?