An Encounter with a Gorilla


Europeans didn't really know the gorilla as a distinct species until the 19th century. (They often confused it with the chimpanzee and debated whether it was a type of orangutan.) Accounts of it from that time are mostly folklore, emphasizing its habit of murdering people. It wasn't until the 1950s that field observations finally laid that myth to rest.

But as early as 1897, an explorer named Mary Kingsley told of a perfectly harmless encounter with gorillas. In the jungle one day, her guide motioned her to silence. Together, they crept up on a clearing, and that's when she . . .


Kingsley's ideas about people show the bias of her time, but her description of gorilla behavior is the first accurate one I know of. She concludes with a personal observation:


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