The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Dian Fossey’s Forgotten Gorilla Orphans

A fine example of how cruel this world is to our wonderful Apes. So Sad! Dian is missed by many.

Older readers may recall seeing a photo of Dian with two young gorillas on the cover of the January 1970 issue of the National Geographic magazine. Few know what became of the youngsters. This is their story.

It is February 1969. Dian Fossey has just rescued a young male gorilla from a corrupt park conservator in the Virungas who paid the notorious poacher Munyarukiko to acquire a young mountain gorilla for the Cologne Zoo. Dian learns that the cost of filling the “order” involved the slaughter of ten adults as they made one last stand in defense of the infant on the mist-shrouded slopes of Rwanda’s Mount Karisimbi. Dian strikes a bargain with the conservator. The infant has been horribly mutilated by the wire snares utilized to bind his hands and feet. Gangrene is a real possibility, and malnutrition and dehydration have already taken their toll. Dian agrees to nurse the infant back to health, at which time she will return the baby to the conservator for shipment to the Cologne Zoo, since the zoo has paid upfront and is still demanding its “cargo.” Her hope is that she will have time to convince authorities to return the infant to the wild.

Dian’s hopes were not destined to become reality. No sooner had Dian converted her storeroom to a gorilla rehabilitation facility, when there was a knock at her cabin door. The conservator had dispatched another baby, this one a female, of about three years of age, who had also been poached for the zoo. Dian (who had already been studying mountain gorillas for two years) immediately noticed that both gorillas had webbed toes on their right feet, which indicated that they might be from the same family. The orphans were named Coco and Pucker, and Dian Fossey embarked upon yet another episode in her life at Karisoke that started ripe with promise, but would end in tragedy. Dian’s plans to convince park authorities to allow her to release the babies back into the wild would never be realized.

On May 3, she was forced to watch as Coco and Pucker were nailed into a crate and loaded aboard an airplane for the trip to Germany. The young gorillas arrived in excellent condition, due to the care Dian had lavished upon them, but died within a month of each other after eight years of exhibition for the delight of human primates. Dian later wrote that she was certain that Coco and Pucker died of broken hearts.

Exactly twenty years after Dian’s death at the hands of unnamed assailants in 1985, a listing on an obscure gorilla list serve was noticed by a friend of IPPL who lives in the UK. A man had some photos of Coco and Pucker that were taken at the Cologne Zoo in 1974! His former girlfriend happened to see them playing in a grassy area and snapped a few shots of Coco and Pucker, all the while having no idea of the significance of the two young gorillas. Shirley McGreal wrote an email to the photographer, explaining that McGreal was a former friend of Dian’s, and that Dian’s own heart was broken by the shipment of the gorillas to the zoo and their subsequent deaths. After several aborted attempts to send the scanned photos by e-mail, the grainy, scratched, digital images arrived at IPPL. The photographer, Ria Bakker, graciously gave permission for IPPL to use the historic photos as Shirley saw fit. The photos offer a brief glimpse through a window in time. One in particular is rather chilling, showing a young gorilla standing upright and looking directly into the camera lens. Whether it is Coco or Pucker is impossible to tell, but it is almost as if the gorilla is reaching through the years, with eyes reminding the viewer of the consequences of humans’ bungled attempts to manage other species. Ria Bakker did not work at the Cologne Zoo, but was visiting in either 1973 or 1974, according to information she supplied to IPPL. Bakker was a zookeeper at the Wassenaar Zoo in the Netherlands. This zoo was forced to close down in 1986, due to financial problems.

“At that time I did not have a clue that Coco and Pucker were very special. I only noticed that they were different than the Western lowland gorillas in our zoo,” Bakker said.

“Coco and Pucker had two cages in the very old ape house, and the zookeepers took them out once a day to the playground in the grass, which was in the front of the building. They would play there with them for half an hour or so. Because the keepers knew that we were visiting from another zoo, we were allowed to be there and watch them,” Bakker explained.

More than thirty years after Ria Bakker first saw Coco and Pucker, the incident remains fresh in her memory. Her bittersweet reflection includes the memory that “the longer I worked as a zookeeper, the more aware (I became) of the situation of the gorillas in the wild. When I found out what happened with these two poor creatures, it just broke my heart,” Bakker wrote to IPPL.

An interesting footnote to this story is that the poacher of Coco and Pucker, Munyarukiko, was allegedly instrumental in the death of Dian’s beloved silverback Digit and remained an adversary of the gorillas for many years. Digit’s severed hands, feet, and head were buried outside of the poacher’s hut, but were removed before Dian and other officials could retrieve them. Only Digit’s torso is buried in the gorilla cemetery adjacent to Dian’s grave.


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