Gorilla - Encyclopedia

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GORILLA (or PoNGO), the largest of the man-like apes, and a native of West Africa from the Congo to Cameroon, whence it extends eastwards across the continent to German East Africa. Many naturalists regard the gorilla as best included in the same genus as the chimpanzee, in which case it should be known as Anthropopithecus gorilla, but by others it is regarded as the representative of a genus by itself, when its title will be Gorilla savagei, or G. gorilla. That there are local forms of gorilla is quite certain: but whether any of these are entitled to rank as distinct species may be a matter of opinion. It was long supposed that the apes encountered on an island off the west coast of Africa by Hanno, the Carthaginian, were gorillas, but in the XII. 9 opinion of some of those best qualified to judge, it is probable that the creatures in question were really baboons. The first real account of the gorilla appears to be the one given by an English sailor, Andrew Battel, who spent some time in the wilds of West Africa during and about the year 1590; his account being presented in Purchas's Pilgrimage, published in the year 1613. From this appears that Battel was familiar with both the chimpanzee and the gorilla, the former of which he terms engeco and the latter pongo - names which ought apparently to be adopted for these two species in place of those now in use. Between Battel's time and 1846 nothing appears to have been heard of the gorilla or pongo, but in that year a missionary at the Gabun accidentally discovered a skull of the huge ape; and in 1847 a sketch of that specimen, together with two others, came into the hands of Sir R. Owen, by whom the name Gorilla savagei was proposed for the new ape in 1848. Dr Thomas Savage, a missionary at the Gabun, who sent Owen information with regard to the original skull, had, however, himself proposed the name Troglodytes gorilla in 1847. The first complete skeleton of a gorilla sent to Europe was received at the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1851, and the first complete skin appears to have reached the British Museum in 1858. Paul B. du Chaillu's account (1861) of his journeys in the Gabun region popularized the knowledge of the existence of the gorilla. Male gorillas largely exceed the females in size, and attain a height of from 51 ft. to 62 ft., or perhaps even more. Some of the features distinguishing the gorilla from the mere gorilla-like chimpanzees will be found mentioned in the article PRIMATES. Among them are the small ears, elongated head, the presence of a deep groove alongside the nostrils, the small size of the thumb, and the great length of the arm, which reaches half-way down the shin-bone (tibia) in the erect posture. In old males the eyes are overhung by a beetling penthouse of bone, the hinder half of the middle line of the skull bears a wall-like bony ridge for the attachment of the powerful jaw-muscles, and the tusks, or canines, are of monstrous size, recalling those of a carnivorous animal. The general colour is blackish, with a more or less marked grey or brownish tinge on the hair of the shoulders, and sometimes of chestnut on the head. Mr G. L. Bates (in Proc. Zool. Soc., 1905, vol. i.) states that gorillas only leave the depths of the forest to enter the outlying clearings in the neighbourhood of human settlements when they are attracted by some special fruit or succulent plant; the favourite being the fruit of the "mejom," a tall cane-like plant (perhaps a kind of Amomum) which grows abundantly on deserted clearings. At one isolated village the natives, who were unarmed, reported that they not unfrequently saw and heard the gorillas, which broke down the stalks of the plantains in the rear of the habitations to tear out and eat the tender heart. On the old clearings of another village Mr Bates himself, although he did not see a gorilla, saw the fresh tracks of these great apes and the torn stems and discarded fruit rinds of the "mejoms," as well as the broken stalks of the latter, which had been used for beds. On another occasion he came across the bed of an old gorilla which had been used only the night before, as was proved by a negro woman, who on the previous evening had heard the animal breaking and treading down the stalks to form its couch. According to native report, the gorillas sleep on these beds, which are of sufficient thickness to raise them a foot or two above the ground, in a sitting posture, with the head inclined forwards on the breast. In the first case Mr Bates states that the tracks and beds indicated the presence of three or four gorillas, some of which were small. This account does not by any means accord with one given by von Koppenfels, in which it is stated that while the old male gorilla sleeps in a sitting posture at the base of a tree-trunk (no mention being made of a bed), the female and young ones pass the night in a nest in the tree several yards above the ground, made by bending the boughs together and covering them with twigs and moss. Mr Bates's account, as being based on actual inspection of the beds, is probably the more trustworthy. Even when asleep and snoring, gorillas are difficult to approach, since they awake at the slightest rustle, and an attempt to surround the one heard making his bed by the woman resulted in failure. Most gorillas killed by natives are believed by Mr Bates to have been encountered suddenly in the daytime on the ground or in low trees in the outlying clearings. Many natives, even if armed, refuse, however, to molest an adult male gorilla, on account of its ferocity when wounded. Mr Bates, like Mr Wiriwood Reade, refused to credit du Chaillu's account of his having killed gorillas, and stated that the only instance he knew of one of these animals being slain by a European was an old male (now in Mr Walter Rothschild's museum at Tring) shot by the German trader Paschen in the Yaunde district, of which an illustrated account was published in 1901. Mr E. J. Corns states, however, that two European traders, apparently in the "'eighties" of the 19th century, were in the habit of surrounding and capturing these animals as occasion offered.' Fully adult gorillas have never been seen alive in captivity - and perhaps never will be, as the creature is ferocious and morose to a degree. So long ago as the year 1855, when the species was known to zoologists only by its skeleton, a gorilla was actually living in England. This animal, a young female, came from the Gabun, and was kept for some months in Wombwell's travelling menagerie, where it was treated as a pet. On its death, the body was sent to Mr Charles Waterton, of Walton Hall, by whom the skin was mounted in a grotesque manner, and the skeleton given to the Leeds museum. Apparently, however, it was not till several years later that the skin was recognized by Mr A. D. Bartlett as that of a gorilla; the animal having probably been regarded by its owner as a chimpanzee. A young male was purchased by the Zoological Society in October 1887, from Mr Cross, the Liverpool dealer in animals. At the time of arrival it was supposed to be about three years old, and stood 22 ft. high. A second, a male, supposed to be rather older, was acquired in March 1896, having been brought to Liverpool from the French Congo. It is described as having been thoroughly healthy at the date of its arrival, and of an amiable and tractable disposition. Neither survived long. Two others were received in the Zoological Society's menagerie in 1904, and another was housed there for a short time in the following year, while a fifth was received in 1906. Falkenstein's gorilla, exhibited at the Westminster aquarium under the name of pongo, and afterwards at the Berlin aquarium, survived for eighteen months. "Pussi," the gorilla of the Breslau Zoological Gardens, holds a record for longevity, with over seven years of menagerie life. Writing in 1903 Mr T. W. Hornaday stated that but one live gorilla, and that a tiny infant, had ever landed in the United States; and it lived only five days after arrival. (R. L.*)

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