Background Switcher (Hidden)

Gorillas-The Buff Vegetarians

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I find beauty in the great apes, in their thoughtful faces and in their great power. This is Anakka, who turns 25 in June. And he's a redhead, too! See the red hair? This magnificent silverback in his prime has three females in his social group. One is Toni, who is 38 years old and the youngest and only surviving first generation offspring of Colo, the famous elderly female gorilla I spoke about in the last post.

Toni has such a lovely face; she looks like her mother, Colo. Toni has given birth to seven babies. She was born in Columbus but spent about a dozen years at the Detroit Zoo. Zoo animals need to travel so that their precious genes can be spread around. When she came back to Columbus, her mother Colo barely acknowledged her--she clearly knew her, but because Toni had been taken away from Colo for hand-raising, the mother-daughter bond was not as strong as it might have been. However Toni's first baby, Jumoke, and Colo were very close. When Jumoke had her first gorilla child, great-grandma Colo practically raised that baby herself, as Jumoke was very young and didn't know what to do. Even though Colo was the brains behind the operation, Jumoke goes down as the first third-generation captive-bred gorilla to raise her own young.

When gorillas are kept in social groups, they teach each other, and the protocol of having zoo staff artificially raise their infants is falling by the wayside as we finally allow these animals to live as they are meant to--in closely bonded family groups, where culture and knowledge can be handed down from mother to daughter to great-granddaughter.

Sexy beast! Here's the back view of Anakka. I look at that musculature and wonder why a gentle vegetarian needs to be so very buff.

Here's a theory, and it's only the Science Chimp, ruminating. har har... If you're going to eat little else but raw stems and leaves, you need a capacious stomach, a rumen, almost, with which to digest such low-protein fare. So you have this huge belly, this vital digestive apparatus, to haul around, which is continually full of a great deal of vegetation. If you're going to sleep in trees so you don't get killed by a leopard in the night, you have to have some seriously massive muscles to pull yourself into the canopy to build your nest.

All this makes you mighty and ferocious-looking and impressive, even if you don't really need to be and rarely use it. A buff vegetarian. It was this fearsome appearance that gave rise to the old wives' tales about gorilla ferocity that in turn spawned movies like King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Researchers like Dian Fossey showed us gorillas as they really are: meek, retiring, slightly lazy, peaceable. Jane Goodall showed us chimpanzees as they really are, and their reality is a good bit scarier to me than that of gorillas--organized hunting expeditions to rob mother baboons of their babies, infanticide, even planned inter-troop warfare...behavior not seen in gorillas. Good thing the huge ape is the peaceable one.

I am indebted to Sue Allison Roberts, Columbus Zoo docent since 2004, for the family history here. Don't blame her for my harebrained theorizing. Sue told me so many tidbits about the Columbus gorillas, but my favorite one was this. A number of years ago, Dian Fossey came to the Columbus Zoo to give a lecture. Sue said she seemed ill at ease, nervous, awkward among the admiring crowds who attended--a portrait that is borne out by biographers. They closed off the gorilla exhibit and let Dian be there with the animals. She talked to them in the grunts and belches of their kind; she spent several hours observing and being observed by them. And when she came out, she said, and I paraphrase here: "I see a lot of gorillas as I go around and give lectures at zoos. And your gorillas aren't crazy. Good job."

Speaking of not crazy, I am deliriously happy to be painting again, tackling work after work without procrastination or its evil mother, fear. The only way to paint is just to do it, not to think about it endlessly. Having been away from it for so long, I think I need to prove something to myself. I keep tackling more and more challenging subjects. I hope that urge will dissipate. But there's always a walk through fire when I switch brain hemispheres. Now the writer in me is yelling to be let out of her garret. Sometimes I wish I could split like a hydra. Instead, I wind up scribbling notes for my next essay down the margins of whatever I'm painting. So glad it's cruel old winter for awhile longer. Holing up and producing is just what I need to do. I'm not ready for the woodcock's dance just yet.

“I arise torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan the day.”

E. B. White


It's because EB White thought that way that he could write something like Charlotte's Web. (Not to mention The Elements of Style, which would certainly have had something to say about the previous sentence.)

Those are good desires to hold in tension, and I think they they make our work (painting, writing, activism, raising children, whatever ...) better.

Thank you this beautifully written Science Chimp's take on gorillas. I loved it and I don't think I'll fear them again.

Paint, Julie! Winter is being good for you.

I totally love that quote.

Love the post, Julie, and love the E.B. White quote. I guess the hope of most artists is to be able to save the world with our art, which is the means by which we savor the world. What gets in the way of doing either of those things the need to earn a living!

Julie, from your pictures of horses, old barns, gorillas, and everything of recent posts you have a tremendous larder of subject matter to compose from. I relate all too well to the procrastination and fear factor that beginning painting can induce. Just doing it is the only cure for both of those evil twins. Just finished my first painting of the year and need to begin whatever is next before inactivity becomes too comfortable.

Hi Julie:

I was under the impression that gorillas make groundnests. The younger gorillas and females tend to be more arboreal than the males.

As to why males are so much more muscular, well it probably all comes down to display, display, display.

Hi Julie!

I am always smiling thru my tears when I read your "gorilla posts". I'm simply crazy about our furry friends and love reading about your visit with them! You got some GREAT photos of our handsome Anakka! Truly beautiful! And of course the petite Toni does look like her mom there.....but I still see her daughter, Jumoke, in her face.

Bruce: I think you may be right. I do believe that some of the younger ones and maybe some females may go "upstairs" at night, at times, but the big guys are probably going to stay in ground nests. The silverbacks work 24/7 to protect their families and if there were some kind of danger it would take too long to get back "downstairs". PLUS it would have to be a monster tree to handle a bed for a 400+ pounder!

Great theory tho, Science Chimp! :-)

Sue Roberts

Posted by Anonymous January 29, 2010 at 4:48 PM
This comment has been removed by the author.

Note to self: Proofread before posting. Twice.

E.B. White is da man. I savor his essays, and regularly give away copies of Elements of Style. (And I love knowing that the boy he refers to is his stepson, Roger Angell.)

I'm so happy that you're immersed in painting, and reveling in it. Sounds as if you're kvelling. (One of my favorite Yiddishisms, it means happy and proud, gushing, welling up, or delighted to the point of tears. Not bad for an Irish girl, huh?)

And another thing: Peent!

Gorillas have the most beautiful faces. Even when they grow old, their faces just deepen into more thoughtful and serene aspects. I find chimpanzees scary. They seem much more volatile and violent than the gorilla.

A beautiful quote by E.B. White.

this is my first visit to your posts and I am enthralled feels like a fairy's wand has brushed against my cheek..your images are magnificent and your sensivity for this glorious world and our companions is making my heart swell...thank you. thank you again...I look forward to following ...and I adore the E.B. White quote...all glorious.

Iona, thank you. Everyone go see Iona's killer paintings and photos!
If you venture into this winter's archives I have a post called Barn Wabi-Sabi, many on exquisite decrepitude in fact...we share a great deal. I feel blessed that you stopped by.

[Back to Top]