National Geographic : 1960 Jan
Face to Face With Gorillas in Central Africa land with a traveling menagerie, mistakenly displayed as a chimpanzee. Even as recently as 1861, when the French American explorer, Paul du Chaillu, described encounters with huge African primates, their existence was widely rejected as a figment of overfertile imagination. Critics accused the explorer of "doctoring" the gorilla skins he brought back for lecture exhibits and of grossly exaggerating his adventures. True, Du Chaillu's accounts seem somewhat colored in the light of today's knowledge of gorillas. But one must concede the courage of this first white man to face the terrifying, little-known creature in the wild. Forest King a "Nightmare Vision" Of his first gorilla kill, Du Chaillu wrote: "He stood about a dozen yards from us, and was a sight I think I shall never forget. Nearly six feet high (he proved four inches shorter), with immense body, huge chest, and great muscular arms, with fiercely-glaring large deep gray eyes, and a hellish expression of face, which seemed to me like some night mare vision; thus stood before me this king of the African forest. "He was not afraid of us. He stood there, and beat his breast with his huge fists till it resounded like an immense bass-drum, which is their mode of offering defiance; meantime giving vent to roar after roar.... "His eyes began to flash fiercer fire as we stood motionless on the defensive, and the crest of short hair which stands on his forehead began to twitch rapidly up and down, while his powerful fangs were shown as he again sent forth a thunderous roar. And now truly he reminded me of nothing but some hellish dream creature-a being of that hideous order, half-man half-beast, which we find pictured by old artists in some repre sentations of the infernal regions. He ad vanced a few steps-then stopped to utter that hideous roar again-advanced again, and finally stopped when at a distance of about six yards from us. And here, just as he began another of his roars, beating his breast in rage, we fired, and killed him." Rare Mountain Subspecies Discovered After Du Chaillu's expedition, other hunters and explorers brought back gorilla skins and skeletons for museum study. By the turn of the century, at least a score of attempts had been made to exhibit live young gorillas. Improperly fed and vulnerable to many of man's ills, however, most captives died within a few weeks or months. Only in recent decades have zookeepers succeeded in maintaining healthy gorillas for public display. "In 1901," my host Mr. Baumgartel re lated, "a Captain von Beringe shot a gorilla on Mount Sabinio. Study showed minor skeletal differences between this mountain gorilla and the lowland variety of west equa torial Africa. Moreover, living in the wet, cold forests of the high country, it had some what heavier fur, as one would expect." Today mountain gorillas bear the Latin name Gorilla gorilla beringei in honor of the captain. Among the world's rarest animals, they are found in only a few regions of central Africa, including the romantically named Im penetrable Forest around Kayonza and the Maniema Forest on Lake Tanganyika (map, page 127). Their larger cousins, the lowland gorillas, tagged with the monotonous scien tific name Gorilla gorilla gorilla, inhabit the vast forests of equatorial Africa from the west coast into the Congo Basin. Munidi Screams Threats, Shakes a Hairy Fist, and Charges the Camera Strong enough to bend iron bars, a gorilla will fight fiercely if cornered or if his family is threatened. Munidi, a captive at Utu for a few months, charged savagely as the author opened a shutter in the stockade wall (next page). When Dr. Zahl slammed the door in his face, the ape pounded on the fence and howled in frustration. Reuben Peers Cautiously Into an Ape's Bed of Springy Boughs Gorillas live like nomads, roaming the jungle for food and spending the nights in different spots. Most of them bed down on the ground in a nest of leaves and branches. Twice the size of a washtub, this bed was occupied the night before. Reuben swings his crescent-bladed panga to clear a path through the moss-festooned trees. ALL KODACHROMESBY PAUL A. ZAHL, NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSTAFF © N.G.S.