banner -Gorilla Goes Viral- visitor showing their phone to gorilla, who is in its enclosure, thru the glass viewing window

Gorilla Goes Viral

YouTube Video exceeds 6.7 million views.

jelaniIt’s an average day in early September. A large, hairy hand taps the window in Gorilla Forest and a collective, “Awwww” sweeps through the crowd of 20 or more people gathered. The onlookers point and whisper to one another while snapping photos. One person in particular, Paul Ross, a professional videographer, was on his first visit to the Zoo with his one year old, Emma. Ross sees a golden opportunity and records video — and ta da, a star is born. The star, Louisville Zoo’s 18 year-old Gorilla Jelani, is tapping the window encouraging 19-year-old Dylan Mehringer to scroll to the next gorilla photo on his smartphone. The crowd grows and Ross asks Dylan if he can post the video to YouTube. Dylan obliges and shortly afterward the video posted on Reddit and YouTube goes viral, receiving millions of views.

Viral videos are like lightning in a bottle. Studies estimate over 72 hours of video is uploaded every minute and over 4 billion hours of video already exists. It is truly amazing when anything is noticed. Dylan’s mother Vicky described the experience as “magical” and added, “We knew something special was happening. We’ve been to zoos all over and never had such a thing happen.” The moment that wowed those at the Louisville Zoo that day, wowed a nation through the magic of video sharing. Dylan enjoyed his notoriety but was quick to tell us that, “Out of the whole experience, the best part was spending time with Jelani.” In fact, a dwindling phone battery was the only thing that pulled Dylan away — who said he’s looking forward to his next visit with Jelani.

Interaction and connection are like precious gems to us at the Zoo. We love and covet the moments when families get to build memories with our animal ambassadors like Jelani. For a guest to have a magical moment with any of our animals is crucial to our mission of bettering the bond between people and our planet. Special moments like these will stay with our guests for a lifetime and encourage them to be ambassadors for our planet and its wildlife.

The Zoo’s PR office has taken calls from all over the country from people gathering more information about the photo-loving gorilla who resides in Louisville’s award-winning Gorilla Forest. Jelani was seen on NBC’s TODAYshow, ABC’s Good Morning America, Daily,, Inside Edition and nearly 25 other blog sites including international websites in Pakistan, Australia, Africa and the United Kingdom.

Through this moment, we were able to further tell the story of western lowland gorillas and engage people in conversations about Jelani’s wild counterparts, primate conservation and the important part zoos play in conservation advocacy. Zookeepers in Gorilla Forest have used this opportunity as a segue to discuss gorillas in the remnant wild with guests. Lead Keeper in Gorilla Forest, Michelle Wise said, “The conversation generally starts with, ‘Is this Jelani who loves photos?’ and then we are able to move into facts about Jelani and ultimately tell the story of western lowland gorillas in wild places.”

Presently, there are two species of gorillas (each with two subspecies), inhabiting four small separate regions in Africa. Western gorillas, including western lowland, are found in WestCentral Africa, between the Congo and Niger rivers. All four subspecies of gorilla are endangered and are facing an extremely high risk of extinction due to various causes including loss of habitat, poaching, and viruses. Recent data shows the number of Western lowland gorillas to be about 100,000.

Jelani can be seen daily in rotation with the other nine gorillas in Gorilla Forest. The bachelor group includes Cecil, Kicho, Bengati and Jelani. Mshindi’s group includes Mia, Paki and Kweli. Helen and Demba round out Gorilla Forest in what we affectionately call our old lady group or geriatric group.

Click here to learn more about gorillas in the remnant wild and how you can be an informed ambassador.

The very thing that made Jelani famous can also be used to help his wild cousins — your cell phone!
If you recently upgraded to a shiny new phone, e-cycle your old one with the Zoo! According to the EPA, more than 130 million cell phones will go out of use this year. Recycling your phone reduces the need for coltan, the metal used in smartphone circuit boards. Coltan mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo has contributed to a 90% reduction in gorilla populations within the last five years. In exchange for electronic items collected at the Zoo, our program partner, Eco-Cell, will donate funds to the Zoo to support. Items we can accept include: Cell phones, Smart phones, accessories, iPods, iPads, etc. Learn more about Eco-Cell.