With their humanlike appearance and endearing mannerisms, gorillas have long captured people’s fascination. Their intelligence and emotional capacity also make these great apes seem like ideal animal companions to some.

If you’ve ever wondered whether you could have a pet gorilla, read on as we dive into the details, laws, and considerations around owning one of nature’s gentle giants.

Are Gorillas Legal to Own?

Federal and State Laws Prohibit Private Gorilla Ownership

Both at the federal level and in individual states, laws clearly prohibit keeping gorillas and other primates as personal pets. The Endangered Species Act classifies all gorilla species as endangered or threatened. Their trade and ownership is heavily restricted to protect populations in the wild.

Beyond federal regulations, many state laws have additional bans restricting residents from keeping exotic wildlife like primates as pets.

No states allow unregulated private gorilla ownership. A few states do have permitting systems that regulate ownership to some degree, but these apply primarily to facilities like zoos, sanctuaries, or research institutions rather than individual pet owners.

And permits often impose strict safety and welfare standards for housing primates. Essentially, the web of laws in the U.S. makes legally owning a gorilla as a personal pet virtually impossible for any civilian.

Zoos and Sanctuaries Have Special Permits for Gorillas

While private individuals cannot obtain permits to own gorillas, accredited zoos and wildlife sanctuaries can qualify for special permits. Both federal and state agencies can grant permits to these facilities that meet very rigorous standards for primate care and welfare.

These special permits also require facilities to actively participate in conservation education and sometimes captive breeding programs intended to support wild gorilla populations.

So in short, you cannot legally own a gorilla for a pet under virtually any circumstances in the U.S. But reputable zoos and sanctuaries can obtain special permits that allow them to responsibly house and care for gorillas.

Their work also aims to promote education and conservation efforts that benefit wild gorillas.

Reasons Gorillas Don’t Make Good Pets

Safety Concerns Due to Their Strength and Wild Nature

Gorillas are incredibly strong primates, with adult males capable of lifting over 1,800 pounds. If aggravated, a gorilla could easily harm a human owner despite being raised in captivity. Their wild nature and imposing size makes them unpredictable pets in a domestic environment.

Susceptibility to Human Illnesses

Gorillas share up to 98% of human DNA and are susceptible to many illnesses that humans carry without symptoms like the flu and common cold. Even a mild illness could be very dangerous to a gorilla’s health and potentially fatal in captivity.

A sick gorilla also poses a threat to owners due to the discomfort it faces.

Specialized Dietary Needs

Gorillas require a complex vegetarian diet that is difficult for the average person to meet. This includes specific plant types, adequate fiber and nutrients that vary based on climate. According to the CDC, improper diet is a primary contributor to gorilla illness and shorter lifespans in captivity.

Need for Socialization With Other Gorillas

Gorillas are highly social primates that form lifelong relationships in family groups in the wild. Solitary gorillas can become bored, aggressive and increasingly difficult to handle safely. They require extensive mental and social stimulation that human owners cannot fully provide.

Lack of Research on Domestication

Unlike dogs and cats that have evolved alongside humans for thousands of years, gorillas have not been bred in captivity long enough to fully study domestication. Most research focuses on maintaining wild instincts for conservation breeding programs, limiting understanding of how gorillas adapt as pets.

Short Lifespan in Captivity

Compared to 40+ years in the wild, captive gorillas generally live less than 20 years on average according to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. Between inadequate care, poor diet, loneliness and the impact of illness – lifespans are severely reduced in gorillas held in captivity.

Caring for a Pet Gorilla

Enclosure and Environment Requirements

As one of the largest primates, gorillas need ample space with both sunny and shaded areas, climbing structures, and plenty of natural elements that mimic their native habitat. An outdoor enclosure of at least 1 acre per gorilla is recommended with indoor housing with rooms for sleeping, eating, and playing.

Elements should include large grassy areas, trees, boulders, pooled water features, swings, ramps, and platforms at different heights to climb on. Since gorillas are susceptible to cold, the enclosure would need heating elements for colder climates.

Feeding Considerations

Gorillas are almost exclusively herbivorous in the wild, eating up to 18 hours per day on a varied diet of leafy greens, bamboo stems, fruits, seeds, tree bark, and insects for protein. As pets, a nutritionally balanced captive diet is necessary, including produce like kale, spinach, bell peppers, carrots, cabbage as well as fruits such as bananas, apples, and oranges.

Feed stores carry commercial primate diets and biscuits to supplement. Adult male gorillas can eat up to 50 lbs of food per day, so specialized animal husbandry skills and financial resources would be required to meet their dietary needs.

Social and Behavioral Needs

Highly social animals, gorillas form tight family troops with intricate communication and well-developed emotional bonds in the wild. A solitary living situation would be extremely stressful and deprive a captive gorilla of learning essential social behaviors and emotional development.

Potential owners would need to plan for having at least one other companion gorilla. All caretakers would require training in gorilla behavior, communication methods, appropriate interactions to avoid behavioral issues.

Even with excellent care, pet gorillas may develop neurotic physical illnesses due to inadequate social structures.

Veterinary Care Difficulties

With sophisticated healthcare needs and lack of many standard testing procedures or treatment options safe for gorillas, providing veterinary care poses significant obstacles. Owners would need access to specialized exotics veterinarians with experience working with great apes to conduct customized wellness checks and address potential injuries or illnesses.

Tranquilization carries risks and hospitalization requires highly customized facilities. The costs of exams, diagnostics, surgeries and however basic routine care quickly become exorbitantly expensive for private owners.

Enrichment Activities

Preventing harm and supporting psychological well-being involves providing occupational materials and enrichment prompts that tap into their innate foraging, curiosity and problem-solving drives. Useful activities include setting out toys that can be manipulated like large rubber balls with holes for treats or puzzles with sliding doors concealing food rewards, providing objects for nest-building like straw or wood wool, using rakes and dustbins for cleaning their living space and changing up climbing structures monthly.

Costs of Owning a Gorilla

Purchase or Adoption Fees

Acquiring a gorilla, whether purchasing or adopting, can be extremely expensive. Baby gorillas are rarely up for sale, but prices have been known to reach into the 6 figure range. Adoption fees at accredited zoos or sanctuaries are typically around $50,000 or more.

One thing’s for sure – owning a gorilla will require deep pockets!

Housing Expenses

Providing adequate housing for a gorilla takes serious consideration and funding. In their natural habitats, gorillas have home ranges of several square miles. Recreating this in captivity means providing very large, complex, enriched enclosures.

Most experts recommend indoor housing of at least 700-1000 square feet, and outdoor habitats spanning an acre or more. Building and maintaining enclosures of this scale can easily cost $100,000-500,000+ depending on materials and features.

Food Bills

An adult gorilla eats up to 40 pounds of vegetation per day! This huge appetite means owners must budget for tons of fresh produce, plants, and herbivore pellets every month. Stocking up on fruits, veggies, greens, and supplements at this scale could cost $1000+ per month.

It’s not cheap feeding a 500 pound primate!

Vet and Medical Costs

Gorillas require specialized veterinary care to stay healthy, which is extremely expensive. Annual exams, bloodwork, and diagnostic testing can run $5,000-10,000. Treatment for conditions like heart disease and gastrointestinal issues may cost tens of thousands.

And emergencies like infections or injuries often require life-saving surgery, which can rack up bills in the six figures. Most owners invest in pricey exotic pet insurance.

Enrichment and Caretaking

Keeping gorillas mentally and physically stimulated requires continuous effort, creativity, and funds. Owners must provide new and engaging enrichment activities daily, including foraging opportunities, sensory items, and puzzles.

Caretakers also need to be on staff 24/7 to tend to the gorilla’s complex social and welfare needs. Depending on staff size and enrichment materials, this can amount to $50,000+ in annual costs.


While gorillas exhibit many traits that humans find appealing in animal companions, laws and ethics prevent private ownership. Providing for their complex care also proves extremely difficult and costly outside of professional zoological settings.

For these reasons and more, gorillas remain unsuitable pets for all but the most specialized facilities.

If you want an affectionate, intelligent animal friend, we suggest considering more domesticated species that have been bred for life alongside humans. But by supporting professional zoos and sanctuaries or exploring volunteer opportunities, you can still enjoy meaningful bonds with these amazing creatures!

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