That Gorilla Wasn't Drunk! Experts Debunk Punched Photographer's Claim

Mar 03, 2015 05:37 PM EST

You might just be hearing about it, as news outlets across the globe are hastily picking up a stunning story about a drunk gorilla who sucker-punched a nature photographer right in the noggin during a visit to Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. There's just one problem with this tale. According to experts, the gorilla couldn't have possibly been drunk.

The photographer in question, Christophe Courteau, 46, has been snapping stunning photos of both people and wildlife for the greater part of his adult life. That's why it came as quite a shock when the alpha male gorilla known as Akarevuro - an animal that the photographer was already quite familiar with - suddenly stopped munching on bamboo to attack Courteau.

"In a scene reminiscent of a bar brawl, the 250kg mountain gorilla... appears to clench his fist tightly before tackling the photographer in a display of wanton aggression," the Caters News Agency (CNA), who first broke the story, reported last week.

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And like a true photographer - or perhaps a foolhardy one- Courteau just kept snapping pictures right up until he was laid out by Akarevuro's punch.

[You can see the photos from the wild incident yourself here, via CNA.]

Courteau said he couldn't run because he was already on his knees snapping photos when the alpha gorilla charged him, so instead, he just kept hitting that shutter button. Luckily, Akarevuro wasn't actually even interested in the photographer, and just kept on going after knocking the man over. He was actually charging to scare off a rival male.

Courteau also defends Akarevuro saying that "normally, [he] timidly avoids visitors when they move close, but not this time, Akarevuro was too excited and drunk."

The photographer explains that gorillas sometimes act out of character when the bamboo that they prefer to munch on ferments in their stomachs, but according to the Smithsonian, that can't actually be the case.

Joanna Lambert, an expert on biological anthropology at the University of Texas, recently told the famous institution's Natasha Geiling that gorilla's actually have stomachs just like you or I - ones that cannot facilitate enough fermentation to get a 500-pound alpha male gorilla drunk.

"There are all kinds of 'forest legends' of animals like elephants getting drunk, and for the most part that's not happening," Lambert explained.

She suggests that the photographer, too excited about how close he was getting to Akarevuro, simply missed some key cues that the animal was aggravated. The alpha could have even been on a sugar high if he had eaten enough bamboo, explaining for his erratic behavior.

Still, Lambert and the Smithsonian add that for the most part, this unfortunate run-in should not dissuade tourists, especially practiced photographers,  from visiting places like Volcanoes National Park, as it has been a boon for conservation, and brings the majesty of these amazing creatures to life.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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