Saturday, May 26, 2007


What are you looking at?, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Bokito is a silverback gorilla who lives in Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam. He made the headlines a couple of weeks ago as he escaped from his enclosure, by climbing a high wall and negotiating a moat, and carried off and attacked a woman, biting her many times and then going on the rampage.

It turns out that the woman who was bitten had an obsession with Bokito. She would come to the zoo four times a week and spend a lot of time looking at Bokito, the two giving each other a lot of eye contact. Apparently, it was this eye contact which so affected Bokito that he decided to escape from his compound. He came after her and carried her away bfore biting her. It is not entirely clear why this woman was so fascinated by the gorilla.

Further there is a discussion about whether great apes should be kept in zoos, more so than other animals because they are so close to humans, genetically speaking and are our closest cousins. In these discussions there is always an assumption that our views towards great apes (and other animals) will change such that what we do to them today will seem to be totally barbaric to people in, say, 200 years time. Much the same as has happened with the way we think about slavery, for example.

I am sure they are right, but one of the problems is that so few apes are living safely in the wild. The great forests of the Congo basin are apparently up for grabs and are being felled by multi-national logging companies. The loggers need food and apparently great apes are killed for meat, whilst their habitat gets chopped down. So, at least having some safe populations in zoos may safeguard some species from extinction. Probably better to give them as much space as possible and protect them from too much intrusion. In the case of Blijdorp, if this lady really did come four times a week to spend time with her favourite gorilla, someone from the zoo should have told her to be careful not to upset him.

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