Stories of the Gorilla Country - Paul du Chaillu

We Capture a Gorilla

gorilla capture



I remember well the day when I first possessed a live gorilla. Yes, a gorilla that could roar; a young gorilla alive! He was captured not far from Cape St. Catharine, and dragged into Washington.

My hunters were five in number, and were walking very silently through the forest, when suddenly the silence was broken by the cry of a young gorilla for its mother. Every thing was still. It was about noon, and they immediately determined to follow the cry.

Soon they heard the cry again. Gun in hand, the brave fellows crept noiselessly toward a clump of wood, where the baby gorilla evidently was. They knew the mother would be near; and there was a likelihood that they might encounter the male also, which they dread more than they do the mother. But they determined to risk every thing, and, if possible, to take the young one alive, knowing how pleased I should be, for I had been long trying to capture a young gorilla.

Presently they perceived the bush moving; and crawling a little farther on, in dead silence, scarcely breathing with excitement, they beheld what had seldom been seen even by negroes. A young gorilla was seated on the ground, as the picture shows you, eating some berries, which grew close to the earth. A few feet farther on sat the mother, also eating some of the fruit.

Instantly they made ready to fire; and none too soon, for the old female saw them as they raised their guns, and they had to pull triggers without delay. Happily, they wounded her mortally.

She fell on her face, the blood gushing from the wounds. The young one, hearing the noise of the guns, ran to his mother and clang to her, hiding his face and embracing her body. The hunters immediately rushed toward the two, hallooing with joy. How much I wished that I had been with them, and been so fortunate as to assist in the capture of a live gorilla!

Their shouts roused the little one, who, by this time, was covered with blood coming from his mother's wounds. He instantly let go of his mother and ran to a small tree, which he climbed with great agility. There he sat, and roared at them savagely. They were now perplexed how to get at him. What was to be done? No one cared to run the chance of being bitten by this savage little beast. They did not want to shoot him, for they knew I should never forgive them for doing so. He would not come down the tree, and they did not care to climb it after him. At last they cut down the tree, and, as it fell, they dexterously threw a cloth over the head of the young monster, and thus gained time to secure it while it was blinded. With all these precautions, one of the men received a severe bite on the hand, and another had a piece taken out of his leg.

The little brute, though very diminutive, and the merest baby in age, was astonishingly strong, and by no means good tempered. They found they could not lead him. He constantly rushed at them, showing fight, and manifesting a strong desire to take a piece, or several pieces, out of every one of their legs, which were his special objects of attack. So they were obliged to get a forked stick, in which his neck was inserted in such a way that he could not escape, and yet could be kept at a safe distance. It must have been very uncomfortable for him, but it was the only way of securing themselves against his nails and teeth, and thus he was brought to Washington.

The excitement in the village was intense as the animal was lifted out of the canoe in which he had come down the river. He roared and bellowed, and looked around wildly, with his wicked little eyes, giving fair warning that if he could get at any of us he would take his revenge. Of course, no one came in his way.

I saw that the stick hurt his neck, and immediately set about having a cage made for him. In two hours we had built a strong bamboo house, with the slats securely tied at such a distance apart that we could see the gorilla, and it could see out. We made it as strong as we could, and I was very careful to provide against every chance of his escaping. In this cage he was immediately deposited; and now, for the first time, I had a fair chance to look at my prize.

As I approached the cage he darted at me; but I could afford to have a good laugh over him, for I knew he could not get near enough to bite me. He looked at me with very savage eyes.

I named the gorilla Joe—"Fighting Joe." He was evidently not three years old, but fully able to walk alone, and possessed, for his age, very extraordinary strength. His height was about three feet and six inches. His hands and face were very black, his eyes were sunken. The hair on his head was of a reddish-brown color. It began just at the eyebrows, and came down the aides of the face to the lower jaw, just as our beards grow. The whiskers, if we may call them so, were of a blackish color. The face was smooth, and intensely black. The upper lip was covered with short coarse hair; I wondered if it was the beginning of a mustache. I found afterward that gorillas had no mustaches. The lower lip had longer hair; and I wondered also if in time an imperial would grow there. There were eyelashes too, though these were slight and thin. The eyebrows were straight.

Excepting the face, and the palms of his hands and feet, his whole body was covered with hair. On the back the hair was of an iron-gray, becoming quite dark near the arms. On the arms the hair was longer than any where else on the body, as you may see by the picture.

After I had looked carefully at the little fellow, and knew well that he was safely locked in his cage, I ventured to approach him to say a few encouraging words. He stood in the farthest corner; but, as I approached, he bellowed, and made a precipitate rush at me. Though I retreated as quickly as I could, he succeeded in catching my trowsers' legs with the toes of one of his feet, and then retreated immediately to the farthest corner. This taught me caution; I must not approach too near.

Shall I be able to tame him? I thought I should; but I was disappointed.

He sat in his corner, looking wickedly out of his gray eyes; and I never saw a more morose or ill-tempered face than this little beast had. I do not believe that gorillas ever smile.

Of course I had to attend to the wants of my captive. My first business in the morning was to attend on Joe. I sent for some of the forest berries which these animals are known to prefer, and placed these and a cup of water within his reach. He was exceedingly shy, and would neither eat nor drink till I had removed to a considerable distance.

The second day I found Joe fiercer than the first. He rushed savagely at any one who stood even for a moment near his cage, and seemed ready to tear us to pieces. A fine specimen of man-monkey, thought I; a tiger under the disguise of a gorilla. I wondered what kind of a cage a full-grown gorilla would require. I should certainly not care to be his keeper.

I threw Joe pieces of pine-apple leaves, and I noticed that he ate only the white part. There seemed to be no difficulty about his food as long as it was gathered from his native woods, but he refused all other kinds of food. He was very fond of bananas and ripe plantains.

The third day Joe was still more morose and savage, bellowing when any person approached, or retiring to a distant corner to make a rush upon them.

On the fourth day, while no one was near, the little rascal succeeded in forcing apart two of the bamboo sticks which composed his cage, and made his escape. I came up just as his flight was discovered, and immediately got all the negroes together for pursuit. Where had he gone? I was determined to surround the wood and recapture him. Running into my house to get one of my guns, I was startled by an angry growl issuing from under my low bedstead. It was Master Joe; there was no mistake about it; I knew his growl but too well. Master Joe lay there hid, but anxiously watching my movements. I cleared out faster than I came in. I instantly shut the windows, and called to my people to guard the door. When Joe saw the crowd of black faces he became furious; and with his eyes glaring, and every sign of rage in his little face and body, he got out from beneath the bed. He was about to make a rush at all of us. He was not afraid. A stampede of my men took place. I shut the door quickly, and left Joe master of the premises. I preferred devising some plans for his easy capture to exposing myself and men to his terrible teeth; for the little rascal could bite very hard, and I did not care to have a piece taken out of one of my legs.

How to take him was now a puzzling question. He had shown such strength and such rage already that I did not care, and none of my men seemed to care, to run the chance of getting badly beaten in a hand-to-hand struggle, in which we were pretty sure to come off the worse. Meantime, peeping through the keyhole, I saw Master Joe standing still in the middle of the room, looking about for his enemies, and examining, with some surprise, the furniture. He seemed to think that he had never seen such things before. I watched with fear, lest the ticking of my clock should attract his attention, and perhaps lead him to an assault upon that precious article. Indeed, I should have left Joe in possession but for a fear that he would destroy the many little articles of value or curiosity I had hung about the walls, and which reminded me so much of America.

Finally, seeing Joe to be quiet, I dispatched some fellows for a net; and, opening the door quickly, I threw this over his head. Fortunately, we succeeded at the first throw in effectually entangling the young monster, who roared frightfully, and struck and kicked in every direction under the net. So fearfully was he excited that I thought he would die in a fit of rage. I took hold of the back of his neck; two men seized his arms, and another the legs; and, thus held by four men, we could hardly manage Joe.

We carried him as quickly as we could to the cage, which had been repaired, and then once more locked him in. I never saw such a furious beast in my life as he was. He darted at every one. He bit the bamboos of his cage. He glared at us with venomous and sullen eyes, and in every motion showed a temper thoroughly wicked and malicious.

After this Joe got worse than ever; and as good treatment only made him more morose and savage, I tried what starvation would do toward breaking his spirit. Besides, it began to be troublesome to procure his food from the woods, and I wanted him to become accustomed to civilized food, which was placed before him. But he would touch nothing of the kind. How was I to bring him to America? I could not put an African forest on board. As for his temper, after starving him for twenty-four hours, all I gained was, that he came slowly up and took some berries from the forest out of my hand, and then immediately retreated to his corner to eat them. Daily attentions from me, for a fortnight more, did not bring me any farther confidence from him than this. He always snarled at me, and only when very hungry would he take even his choicest food from my hand.

At the end of this fortnight I came one day to feed him, and found that he had gnawed a bamboo to pieces slyly, and again made his escape. Luckily, he had just gone, for, as I looked around, I caught a sight of him making off on all-fours, and with great speed, across the prairie for a clump of trees.

I at once gave the alarm. I called the men up, and we gave chase, taking with us all the fishing-nets. He saw us, and, before we could head him off, made for another clump, which was thicker and larger. This we surrounded. He did not ascend a tree, but stood defiantly at the border of the wood. About one hundred and fifty of us surrounded him. As we moved up he began to yell, and made a sudden dash upon a poor fellow who was in advance. The fellow ran, and tumbled down in affright. By his fall he escaped the tender mercies of Joe's teeth, but he also detained the little rascal long enough for the nets to be thrown over him.

Four of us bore him again struggling into the village. This time I would not trust him to the cage, but fastened a small chain round his neck. This operation he resisted with all his might, and it took us quite an hour to securely chain the little fellow, whose strength was something marvelous.

Ten days after he was thus chained he died quite suddenly. He had been in good health, and ate plentifully of his natural food, which was brought every day from the forest for him. He did not seem to sicken until two days before his death. He died in some pain. To the last he continued utterly untamable, and after his chain was put on he added treachery to his other vices. Ho would come sometimes quite readily to eat out of my hand, but while I stood by him would suddenly—looking me all the time in the face to keep my attention—put out his foot and grasp at my leg. Several times he tore my pantaloons in this manner. A quick retreat on my part saved my legs from farther injury, but I had to be very careful in my approaches. The negroes could not come near him at all without setting him in a rage. He seemed always to remember that they captured him, and to think he had experienced rather too hard treatment at their hands; but he evidently always cherished toward me also a feeling of revenge.

After he was chained I filled a half barrel with hay and set it near him for his bed. He recognised its use at once, and it was pretty to see him shake up the hay and creep into this nest when he was tired. At night he always shook it up, and then took some hay in his hands, with which he would cover himself when he was snug in his barrel. He often moaned, for his mother perhaps, at night.

After Joe died I stuffed his body, and brought his skin and skeleton to New York, where many saw it. Around his neck, where the chain had been, the hair was worn off.

Poor Joe! I wish he had lived and become tame, so that I could have brought him home with me to show to the children.

Now Poor Joe can be seen stuffed in the British Museum.