The Office

From: Meghan B
Sent: Wednesday, September 19, 2007 6:17 PM
To: Information , Smithsonian
Subject: Workplace debate

At the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, a question came up
that we've had a hard time answering. I hope your natural history
department might be able to help us or give us the contact information
of someone who will.

Who would win a fight, a grizzly bear or a gorilla?

Most people seem to think grizzly because they're stronger and faster.
But a couple of us think that the gorilla is equally strong and much
more intelligent.

Thanks so much for your time in answering our query.


Meghan B

From: Information , Smithsonian
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2007 3:30 PM
To: 'Meghan B'
Subject: RE: Workplace debate

Meghan B,

Your inquiry of September 19, 2007, regarding a grizzly bear and a
gorilla has been received in the Smithsonian's Public Inquiry Mail
Service for response.

We have forwarded your correspondence to the Department of Vertebrate
Zoology in the National Museum of Natural History from which a response
will be sent if helpful information is available.

We appreciate your interest in the Smithsonian Institution.

From: Gold, Joy
Sent: Mon 10/1/2007 7:18 AM
To: Meghan B
Subject: RE: Workplace debate

Dear Meghan,

I am not sure what kind of fight you are envisioning. Do you mean a
fight where a gorilla and a grizzly bear confront one another? Do you
mean a gorilla that is fighting another gorilla for dominance? Do you
mean a grizzly with cubs encountering a predator such as man? There must
be some kind of bet associated with this question! In the spirit of the
hypothetical since gorillas and grizzly bears would never meet in the
wild as they are distributed in two different continents, I asked two of
our curators for their opinion. After thinking about it a bit, one
replied he didn't know which would win but because the gorilla had hands
that could grip and long arms, he might give it the edge. He thought it
could win if it attacked the grizzly from behind; however the likelihood
of that is unknown. On the other hand (so to speak) another curator
thought it all depended on the fighting tactics. He felt the grizzly
would win with its claws and aggressive attitude. If it bit the gorilla
on the front of the neck, it could win. Then again, he said that if the
gorilla opened its mouth and attacked with its arms spread wide it might
scare off the Grizzly. Both animals are big, strong with large jaw
muscles and large teeth. Give them a break and have a good dinner!


Joy Gold
Technical Information Specialist
Department of Vertebrate Zoology


  1. Oh this post is a gem. Reality surrealism. Could almost be a prose poem by Edson. Glad they played along.

  2. Ok, here's the thing: I'm surprised that she responded, of course, and in such detail, yes, but what most surprises me is the idea that she and her colleagues had never thought of the question before.

    I mean, come on! Isn't this exactly the kind of thing that inspires children to become... zoo... battle... experts? Or whatever? I'd bet at least seventeen cents that she and her colleague have already debated a whole cache of such scenarios at length! In fact, there's probably already a book about it!

    ... and if there isn't, I'm writing it. And it's going to be poems, dammit.

  3. I never thought the Smithsonian would answer something like that. Awesome!

    Did you think the bear or gorilla would win?

  4. i think whoever is there filming it for YouTube would win.

  5. There's a very similar (also real) exchange in Chris Bachelder's book Bear v. Shark.

  6. Does Chris Bachelder's book actually talk about a bear v. a shark? Cause if it does we debated that one too and I want to know the answer. I love that this question was passed around the office. Imagine how thankful they must be to those of us at the Piper Center for brightening their day. In any case, I still think the bear would win. Those claws and teeth and all.

  7. Well, it's either a drowning bear or a shark in too-shallow waters. Either way, I think that fight's a disappointment.

    Unless, of course, the bear had scuba gear. In which case I've got to go with Scuba Bear.

  8. This is so much better than conversations at my glamorous job.

    R: Do you like my shoes?
    E: No.
    R: Would you wear them for me for a week to widen them a bit? They pinch.
    E: Okay.

    See what I mean? The Smithsonian has never once been invoked.