ST. LOUIS—Based on the sheer power of the animals and their potential for extreme aggression, wildlife experts concluded Thursday that not climbing into the gorilla enclosure at the Saint Louis Zoo very likely saved 34-year-old local man Richard Fulton’s life.
According to stunned witnesses, Fulton was standing in front of the barrier separating him from a 370-pound male silverback gorilla at around 11:30 a.m. when he narrowly escaped certain death by choosing not to scale the exhibit wall, instead calmly observing the animal from a 10-foot distance before walking away, incredibly, without so much as a scratch.
“Gorillas have six times the upper-body strength of an adult male human, so if Mr. Fulton hadn’t made the split-second decision to refrain from jumping the fence and then traversing the 12-foot-wide concrete moat into the enclosure—well, we would be having a very different conversation right now,” said Marissa Feld, a primate expert at Washington University in St. Louis, who remarked that remaining entirely on the opposite side of the wall from the strong and unpredictable animal was likely the deciding factor that saved the man from a deadly mauling. “It seems counterintuitive, but by staying very still and not entering the gorilla exhibit, he actually did exactly the right thing.”
“A lot of people’s first instinct when they come face-to-face with a gorilla is to freak out and immediately climb into its habitat. It’s a completely understandable reaction, but believe it or not, that is precisely the type of behavior an eastern lowland gorilla is going to interpret as threatening.”
“No question, his quick thinking prevented a terrible tragedy,” Feld added. “He may not even realize how close he came to losing his life.”
Feld went on to say that Fulton’s survival had also hinged on the fact that he did not panic or make sudden movements and managed to keep himself at all times within the confines of the designated gorilla-viewing area, a decision that experts noted was exceptionally clear-headed for someone in his position.
“A lot of people’s first instinct when they come face-to-face with a gorilla is to freak out and immediately climb into its habitat,” Feld said. “It’s a completely understandable reaction, but believe it or not, that is precisely the type of behavior an eastern lowland gorilla is going to interpret as threatening.”
According to sources, upon first sighting the immense primate moving through the simulated African forest environment nearby, Fulton seemed to somehow know exactly what to do next. After carefully watching the gorilla for several minutes, he then steadily and deliberately moved toward the Great Ape House exit sign, all the while keeping the wall between himself and the wild animal.
“There are a lot of ways this incident might have gone very, very wrong—he could’ve hopped the barrier and provoked the great ape by walking too closely to one of its infants, or taken a startling flash photo right in its eyes, or even beaten his own chest and tried to act like a gorilla himself,” Feld said. “But whether by making crucial choices in that moment or perhaps through sheer dumb luck alone, he avoided those perils and made it out of there with his life.”
Remarkably, sources said that just moments after his run-in with the gorilla, Fulton avoided being mauled to death by a Bengal tiger when he didn’t put his arms through the bars of the big cat’s cage and try to pet its pretty fur.