Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Peter Bollington writes

Albert the Gorilla

Albert, you see, 
was my man, my main man, 
though not a man at all of course 
when I was keeper in the zoo: 
was that the human zoo 
named such by Edward Albee, 
but no, Albert was entirely 
Gorilla beringei beringei 
and proud of it probably 
although I couldn’t be sure.

He and I would talk—or I should say 
I would talk and he would gaze at me 
silent, thoughtful, in perplexity 
no doubt 
I mean by what right was I or anyone else 
keeping him there in his enclosure 
and the wire fence between us, 
certainly he didn’t know, 
and I, supposed to be the official caring for him 
kindly, of course, was not sure.

One day I happened to let my plastic gloved hand 
rest a moment too long at the fence 
as though placing it there was a gesture of good will 
he might appreciate 
and he took hold of it 
so there I was, and nobody about, 
holding hands with a gorilla, 
the Gorilla beringei beringei, 
who gripped me firmly and refused 
my persuasion as with Now, Albert, etc. 
holding very firmly and then, 
it must have been a moment or two later 
it occurred to me with one fling of his right arm 
rising up from his shall I say grip that held my hand 
he could rip my arm off and fling it somewhere 
high and over the back of his enclosure 
where it might land as with some explosion 
from a high powered instrument on a jet 
ripping limbs off children in a place like The Gaza Strip 
leaving me, very likely, with a severe condition.

So I spoke on, more gently, lovingly, smiling even 
Now, Albert, I mean you have me here in an awkward position 
and surely we have been friends 
I mean I’ve tried to be decent with your food and cleaning your
surely you wouldn’t want to interrupt the relationship 
ah, Albert, 
and it really is, I think it is, Albert, time for, ah, time for . . . 
of course I was sweating and he must have noticed 
he looked at me as though curiously upon some lab experiment he
was conducting 
an animal he had come across to amuse himself with, and why not, 
I mean hadn’t he been the object of amusement now for at least ten
all those humans gawking and sneering, seeking to get him to react 
even throwing things 
so now he has this chance to examine, gravely, one of these same
treating him to his confinement and destroying his liberty, his life 
and wouldn’t there be justice in tearing off this human’s limb 
for the hell of it?

By this time and oh so sly I hadn’t moved my hand inside the
noticing the sweat in there building as well as on my face 
the nose dripping 
Albert cocking his head, he seemed to raise his eyebrows 
but entirely silent, saying nothing 
only I doing the talking 
slyly thinking maybe I could just pull my hand out of there 
at the right moment of course 
his grip was firm but hadn’t tightened and I’d better not give away 
my plan in case he took it upon himself to be even more firm.

Meanwhile I noticed he resembled the human frame, 
the large brow, the nostrils, jaw, and mouth 
I was nodding with all these thinkings, reminded of someone 
some politician maybe although that perhaps 
does not honor Gorilla beringei beringei sufficiently 
in terms of dignity and restraint 
when, yes, the time was coming 
my babble surely boring him, too labored 
I must make the decision 
I must take the action 
I must withdraw myself.

And there it was 
I pulled and somewhere came a mighty shriek 
it must have been from myself 
and he was left holding the plastic glove 
as I backed away howling like a beast 
whereas he made no sound, gravely staring.

He then retired with the glove to a shady corner 
where he examined it meticulously 
turning it, sniffing, pulling it on to his fingers 
and finally, in an act of deliberate meditation 
picking the glove into tiny pieces with delicate precise movements 
discarding each bit below him 
looking back to stare again when I returned, as though unable to
but not now speaking 
and in his eyes I saw no regret 
only a thoughtful, slow dessication of this thing 
this capture from the human world 
he could now relegate to the miniscule, the irrelevant.

 Image result for Gorilla beringei beringei images


  1. In October 1902, during an expedition to establish the boundaries of German East Africa, Capt. Oscar von Beringe shot two large apes; one of them was sent to the Berlin Zoological Museum, where Professor Paul Matschie classified it as a new species, the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei). It is descended from the proto monkeys and apes found in Africa and Arabia at the start of the Oligocene epoch (34-24 million years ago). The fossil record provides evidence of the hominoid primates (apes) in east Africa about 22–32 million years ago. About 9 million years ago, the group of primates that evolved into gorillas split from their common ancestor with humans and chimps. Then mountain gorillas separated from their western counterparts approximately 2 million years ago and have been isolated from eastern lowland gorillas for about 400,000 years. The Gorilla genus was first referenced as Troglodytes in 1847 but renamed Gorilla in 1852. Until recently it was considered a single species, but DNA evidence has led to the recognition of the eastern and western populations as distinct species. In 1967 the taxonomist Colin Groves proposed that all gorillas be regarded as one species (Gorilla gorilla) with three sub-species, Gorilla gorilla gorilla (western lowland gorilla), Gorilla gorilla graueri, and Gorilla gorilla beringei, but in 2003, after a review, the World Conservation Union divided them into two species (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei, which is firther divided into two subspecies, Gorilla beringei beringei (found in two endangered groups, one in the rainforests and subalpine forests of three National Parks: Mgahinga in southwest Uganda, Volcanoes in northwest Rwanda, and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and one, which some primatologists consider to be a separate subspecies, in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park) and Grauer's gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), formerly known as the eastern lowland gorilla (found across the forests of the Albertine Rift in eastern DRC). The mountain gorilla has longer hair, jaws, and teeth than the lowland subspecies, but slightly shorter arms. The mountain gorilla has dark blue-black to brownish-grey hair which is longer than other gorilla species, allowing it to live in hot or cold weather. Mature males (up to 1.7 m, 160 kg) are much larger than females (up to 1.5 m, 90 kg) and have a large skull crest; at about 14 years of age, the hair in the saddle of their back turns white and hence they are known as "silverbacks." The tallest silverback on record was a 1.94-m (6.4 ft) individual shot in Alimbongo, northern Kivu, in 1938, and the heaviest was a 1.83-m (6.0 ft) individual shot in Ambam, Cameroon, that weighed about 266 kg (586 lb). The home ranges (the areas they feed in over the course of a year) of eastern gorillas are smaller than those of western gorillas.

  2. They are primarily herbivorous, eating mostly the leaves, shoots, and stems of 142 plant species, but they also feed on bark, roots, flowers, berries, and fruit, as well as small invertebrates. Adult males can eat up to 34 kg (75 lb) of vegetation a day, and a female as much as 18 kg (40 lb). They are diurnal and spend most of their time eating, but the majority of their foraging is in the early morning and late afternoon. The midday rest period is an important time for establishing and reinforcing relationships within the group. Mutual grooming reinforces social bonds and helps keep hair free from dirt and parasites; this behavior is less common among gorillas than other primates, but females groom their offspring regularly. Each mountain gorilla builds a nest every evening to sleep in, by folding over surrounding vegetation; only infants sleep in the same nest as their mothers. They leave their nests at sunrise, unless it is cold and overcast; then they often stay in later. Mountain gorillas, being primarily terrestrial and quadrupedal, live on the ground more than any other non-human primate species, but they will climb into fruiting trees if the branches can carry their weight. Their arms are longer than their legs, and they move by knuckle-walking, supporting their weight on the backs of their curved fingers rather than their palms. However, they are capable of running bipedally up to 6 m (20 ft). They dislike rain and are afraid of water and will cross a stream only if they can do so without getting wet. They are also afraid of certain reptiles; infants, who normally chase anything that moves, will go out of their way to avoid chameleons and caterpillars.

  3. Eastern gorillas are highly social, living in relatively stable, cohesive groups led by a dominant silverback male (the average length of tenure for a dominant silverback is 4.7 years). The dominant silverback generally determines the movements of the group, leading it to appropriate feeding sites throughout the year. He also mediates conflicts within the group and protects it from external threats, even at the cost of his own life. Experienced silverbacks are capable of removing poachers' snares from the hands or feet of their group members. Although they are powerful, mountain gorillas are generally gentle and shy; severe aggression is rare in stable groups, but when two mountain gorilla groups meet, the two silverbacks may fight to the death, using their canines to cause deep, gaping injuries; however, most conflicts are resolved by displays and other threat behaviors that are intended to intimidate without becoming physical. The ritualized charge display is unique to gorillas; the entire sequence has nine steps: (1) progressively quickening hooting, (2) symbolic feeding, (3) rising bipedally, (4) throwing vegetation, (5) chest-beating with cupped hands, (6) one- leg kicking, (7) running sideways on four legs, (8) slapping and tearing vegetation, and (9) thumping the ground with the palms. The dominant male is the center of attention during rest sessions, and youngsters frequently stay close to him and include him in their games. Young gorillas play often and are more arboreal than the large adults. Playing helps them learn how to communicate and behave within the group. Activities include wrestling, chasing, and somersaults. If a mother dies or leaves the group, the silverback is usually the one who looks after her abandoned offspring, even allowing them to sleep in his nest. When he dies, the family group may be disrupted; unless there is an accepted male descendant capable of taking over his position, the group will either split up or adopt an unrelated male. When a new silverback joins the family group, he may kill all of the infants of the dead silverback. Most groups are composed of one adult male and a number of females, though many contain more than one adult male. They tend to have larger group sizes than their western relatives, numbering up to 35 individuals, but a typical group consists of one dominant silverback, the group's undisputed leader; another subordinate silverback (usually a younger brother, half-brother, or adult son of the dominant one); one or two blackbacks, who act as sentries; three to four sexually mature females, who are ordinarily bonded to the dominant silverback for life; and from three to six juveniles and infants. The remaining gorillas are either lone males or exclusively male groups, usually made up of one mature male and a few younger ones. Most males leave their natal group when they are about 11 years old, and usually the separation process is slow: they spend more and more time on the edge of the group until they leave altogether. They may travel alone or with an all-male group for 2–5 years before they attract females to join them and form a new group. About 60% of females emigrate when they are about 8 years old, either transferring directly to an established group or beginning a new one with a lone male; they often transfer to a new group several times before they bond with a particular silverback. The groups are nonterritorial; the silverback generally defends his group rather than his territory. They have no distinct breeding season, but females give birth only once every 3-4 years due to the long period of parental care and a gestation period of 8.5 months, and young gorillas are not fully weaned until 3.5 years old. Newborn gorillas have greyish-pink skin and can crawl after 9 weeks.

  4. Twenty-five distinct vocalizations have been identified, primarily for group communication within dense vegetation. Frequent grunts and barks are used while traveling to indicate the whereabouts of individual group members or during social interactions when discipline is required. Screams and roars by silverbacks signal alarm or warning. Deep, rumbling belches suggesting contentment are produced during feeding and resting periods. G. b. graueri is the most populous, with about 5,000 individuals, but G. b. beringei, the largest living primate, has only about 880 individuals; however, though not as populous as the western gorilla, it is the less threatened of the two. In 1967 Dian Fossey began an 18-year study, completing the first accurate census, and establishing active conservation practices such as anti-poaching patrols. Her Digit Fund continued her work as the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International; its Karisoke Research Center monitors and protects the mountain gorillas of the Virungas and began close monitoring and researching the Bwindi mountain gorillas in the 1990s. In 1991 the World Wildlife Federation, Fauna & Flora International, and the African Wildlife Foundation set up the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) to work with local communities and park authorities to protect and manage the gorilla populations and habitats.

  5. In 1925 Carl Akeley, a hunter from the American Museum of Natural History, persuaded king Albert I of Belgium to establish Africa;s first wildlife sanctuary, the Albert National Park (today's Parc National des Virunga) to protect the mountain gorillas in what was then the Belgian Congo. In 1930 the Bristol Zoo, already successful in rearing chimpanzees, bought an infant gorilla and named him Alfred after a local benefactor Alfred Mosely. (Bristol’s connection with gorillas dated back to the first gorilla bones ever taken to the UK. brought to Britain. In 1836, the American naturalist Dr. Thomas Savage, a missionary in Liberia, wrote to Prof. Richard Owen in London, declaring, he had found part of the skeleton of an unknown animal and including a sketch of the skull. He also wrote to Samuel Stutchbury of the Bristol Institution, a forerunner of the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery; in 1847 Capt. George Wagstaff obtained three more skulls from the Gabon river and sent them to Bristol; Stutchbury sent them to Owen, who published a paper on the specimens and proposed "Troglodytes Savagei" as the name of the new species. But by the time the full paper was published, in 1849, Dr. Jeffries Wyman of Harvard had already published a description of the bones with Savage’s own preferred name, Troglodytes gorilla.) Alfred the Gorilla arrived at Bristol Zoo on 5 September 1930, which was thereafter celebrated as his birthday. His cage was positioned just inside one of the entrances, and he quickly became the zoo’s main attractions.In 1938 he became the oldest gorilla to survive in captivity; he survived another decade. His body was sent to London taxidermists for mounting, and then put on display near the Bristol City Museum's cafe, where he continued to draw crowds. A bust of his head was put up at the entrance to the zoo's ape house and eventually put on display at the M Shed museum. In 1956, as a prank, a group of students kidnapped him for three days. In 1979, he was featured in Peter Nichols’ light comedy, "Born in the Gardens." In 1988 he was moved to the museum's World Wildlife gallery on the first floor. The 50th anniversary of his death was celebrated with a contest in which peike recalled their interactions with the celebrated ape; his 80th birthday was celebrated in 2010 with a series of activities and events. Tom Kelpie’s short film spoof, "Who Stuffed Alfred the Gorilla", won critical praise and awards, and Nick Jones and Toby Lucas made a short documentary on him in 2008. And in 2011, to mark the zoo's 175th anniversary, the Wow! Gorillas project was launched across the city to raise awareness about the extinction crisis primates face. Just after Alfred's death, another Alfred the Gorilla arrived at the San Diego Zoo in Caifornia in Aug. 1949, about 4 months old. When he reached maturity he was moved from the zoo's nursery to a new open-air gorilla grotto. In 1965, he fathered Alvila, only the 7th gorilla to be born in any zoo. Albert's antics made him a crowd favorite, just as his namesake had in Bristol. Albert died in 1978, but his name was used for the zoo's restaurant, built on the site of the old gorilla grotto; his offspring continue to draw crowds at the zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

  6. Edward Albee was an American playwright known for "The Zoo Story" (1958), "The Sandbox" (1959), and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1962). His early plays were an Americanization of the "Theatre of the Absurd" movement of European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet. Abandoned by his parents, he was adopted two weeks later by Reed A. Albee, the wealthy son of vaudeville magnate Edward Franklin Albee II (who the future playwright was named after). His first play, "The Zoo Story," was rejected by New York producers, but first staged in Berlin, at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt, in a a double bill with the German premiere of Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape." Originally titled "Peter and Jerry," is was a one-act play that he wrote in just three weeks, exploring the themes of isolation, loneliness, miscommunication as anathematization, social disparity, and dehumanization in a commercial world. A year later, again paired with "Krapp's Last Tape," it was produced by Theatre 1960 for the Provincetown Playhouse in New York and ran for a year and a half and won the 1960 Obie Award for Distinguished Play. A half century later he Albee wrote a prequel, again called "Peter and Jerry" but retitled "Homelife," as he first act of "Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo" with "The Zoo Story" itself as Act II. He also declared he would no longer allow professional theater companies to perform the original one-act play unless as part of the new two-act play. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award's drama jury, but the advisory committee overruled them and decided not to give a drama award at all that year; however, he went on to win three Pulitzers for subsequent dramas.


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