Looking into the face of a gorilla is the closest you can get to a human in the animal world, in my opinion. They live in family groups, love and care for their young, and do not hurt anyone or anything, existing on a vegetarian diet.
When I was very young, I was taken to London Zoo to see Guy the Gorilla. He was a famous exhibit there, having arrived in 1946. When I got to his cage, I was overwhelmed with sadness. The huge animal was in a relatively small cage, behind rows of iron bars like a prison cell. This is a photo of him around that time.
He sat close to the bars with his arm extended, and his hand palm up. After more than twelve years in captivity, he had already become used to zoo visitors offering him treats, and he would catch them when they were thrown at him. All were unsuitable of course, and included biscuits, (cookies) chewy sweets, (candy) and even ice cream thrown in paper tubs. The zoo staff made no attempt to stop anyone feeding him, including my mum, who had brought along some iced biscuits especially for him. She was delighted when he caught each one, and ate it immediately. I wanted the staff to let him go, so he could return to living in the jungle again. My mum told me he wouldn’t know what to do in the jungle now.
Guy was kept on his own for over twenty-five years. Eventually, the zoo decided to provide him with a mate. But they never really got on, and never produced any baby gorillas. Guy died in the zoo in 1978, after being little more than a well-fed prisoner there for his entire life.
I was also quite young when I saw the original 1933 film version of King Kong.
Despite the gigantic gorilla being portrayed as violent, including eating people and destroying things, the sympathy of the audience was directed at the poor creature, and his cruel exploitation by showmen and profiteers. When he is mortally wounded, and falls from the top of the Empire State Building, I cried. Later film versions also showed King Kong in a sympathetic light, with the similarity between the emotions of gorillas and humans being remarked upon.
Like many animals, Gorillas suffer at the hands of poachers in the countries where they still live in the wild. Some are killed for food, others for traditional medicine ingredients, and many more to provide grisly ‘trophies’, such as their heads and hands. In recent decades, various indivduals and some organisations have worked hard to establish refuges and safe areas for gorillas in African countries. Wardens have been employed to discourage poachers, and ‘gorilla tourism’ has been established, with people visiting groups of gorillas who have become used to the close proximity of humans.
Let’s hope that this continues, until gorillas are no longer endangered. It would be tragic indeed to see one of our closest relatives become extinct.