email a friend iconprinter friendly iconMaking Friends With Mountain Gorillas
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Eventually he sits down to peer longingly through the window that faces the slopes of Mount Visoke just a few hundred yards away, and there he finally cries himself to sleep in pathetic body-wracking sobs. Coco, my first infant gorilla charge, is “at home.”

In a week’s time Coco, a male about 16 months old, was joined by Pucker Puss, a 2-year-old female full of complexes and inhibitions. However, by the time Pucker arrived at camp, Coco was beyond enjoying her company. He was as near death as an animal can be without dying.

Both gorillas had been captured by Rwandese park guards and tribesmen for a zoo in a European city—despite the fact that international conservation authorities have declared the mountain gorilla a rare species, its numbers so limited that survival is a concern. Though I deplored the capture, I volunteered to take care of them until they were shipped away.

Coco had spent 26 days in a wire cage that allowed him no room to stand or sit up. His diet had consisted of alien foods and no liquids, but he had accepted bananas readily and so had managed to survive.

Pucker Puss had refused to eat at all. She was terribly thin and weak, and shared with Coco an intense fear of humans.

The following few weeks were spent in getting acquainted with the young gorillas, giving them medication around the clock, and introducing new foods and formulas. Ever so slowly, they learned to trust me.

Those were trying days, and to make matters worse, the cook quit when I asked him to help out with formula preparation and bottle sterilization. He informed me in Swahili, “I am a cook for Europeans, not animals.” The other men were also on the verge of leaving—what with constant demands for fresh foods from the forest and the removal of even fresher dung from the room.

I had to give up my field work temporarily, although in the end my field studies were supplemented and speeded by what I learned from my young charges. This was true especially after they recovered their health sufficiently to be taken out into the surrounding forest.

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