Peanuts left his tree for a bit of strutting before he began his approach in my direction. He is a showman. He beat his chest; he threw leaves into the air; he swaggered and slapped the foliage around him, and then suddenly he was at my side. His expression indicated that he had entertained me—now it was my turn. He sat down to watch my "feeding" but didn't seem particularly impressed, so I changed activities; I scratched my scalp noisily to make a sound familiar to gorillas, who do a great deal of scratching. .
Almost immediately Peanuts began to scratch. It was not clear who was aping whom. Then I lay back in the foliage to appear as harmless as possible, and slowly extended my hand. I held it palm up at first, as the palms of an ape and a human are more similar than the backs of the hand. When I felt that he recognized this "object," I slowly turned my hand over and let it rest on the foliage.
Peanuts seemed to ponder accepting my hand, a familiar yet strange object extended to him. Finally he came a step closer and, extending his own hand, gently touched his fingers to mine. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time a wild gorilla has ever come so close to "holding hands" with a human being.
Peanuts sat down and looked at my hand for a moment longer. He stood and gave vent to his excitement by a whirling chest beat, then went off to rejoin his group, nonchalantly feeding some eighty feet uphill. I expressed my own happy excitement by crying. This was the most wonderful going-away present I could have had.
Human Pressures Shrink Gorilla's Domain
My farewell handshake with Peanuts came after more than three years of study of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), largest of the great apes. The animal is already classified by international conservation authorities as "rare." Under constant pressure from man—hunter and farmer—it is being driven into ever-smaller, more-remote mountain areas. Extinction is a real threat.