Kill a gorilla, said Jordan, and you think it is an
animal you have killed, but it is really your cousin,
Not that you can feel sentimental about them, the way you might about an impala buck, which does not walk on two legs but has eyes like a gentle cow. There is nothing gentle about a gorilla. It has large tusks and cheek teeth, and terrible ugliness in the black, leather nasal fold that runs to the margin of the upper lip. It has broad, short and thick hands, and its fingers and toes are partly webbed. It is something out of your nightmares. It is the eternal mockery of our common origin, and I never killed one with pleasure.
Along the Congo an old native once came into my camp and asked me if I would frighten away a colony of chimpanzee that was raiding his village gardens. Because I knew that natives are deliberately vague about the genus of apes, I said, truly chimpanzee ?
And he said, truly, Bwana, soko.
We found the trail from the village, where the banana trees had been torn, and I knew as soon as I began that this was not the work of chimpanzee, and perhaps the old native did too, but had been afraid that I would not come if he told me the truth.
The truth was sitting in the forest ahead of us when I parted the vines, three gorillas in a circle, their tight scalp hair erect, their black shoulders bowed. They were sitting there banging their wrists on the earth and grunting, and there was another stalking about as if he were dummy in some simian hand of bridge. I looked my disgust at the old native, and he smiled shyly.
I did not want to kill the gorillas, but I was happy to
see them, for I hoped that somewhere was a young one that I could capture and sell to Hagenbeck.
The big fellow stalking the circle was tremendous, with yellow skin beneath the hairs on his chest. There was a blue sheen on his shoulders and back, and the naked flesh of his muzzle looked like a rubber mask. He had a big cooper's barrel for his body, and long, swinging arms. He looked into the forest and flexed his lips over his tusks, and his black eyes had that wild, unhappy desperation you see in gorillas.
Piga, Bwana!' said my guide softly. I shook my head. The old man looked very unhappy, and then uncomfortable. If I were not going to shoot, what was he doing there ?
The big male drew himself up to seven feet, hit himself on the chest with a blow that would have knocked down an ox, and he whoofed. The others stood up quickly from their game of cards, and they held their heads to one side cunningly. They were listening away from us, over to the other side of the glade, and the big male whoofed again.
The trees crashed and a bull elephant pushed his way out amiably. He had a sweep of white tusks that curved magnificently, and he raised his trunk and blared at the gorillas. They snarled, and the female screamed, and all of them backed with their lips pulled from their teeth.
Instinct is a compelling thing, and I could not let that tusker go. His tusks must have weighed over a hundred pounds each. I gave him one barrel of the Express. I must have forgotten all about the gorillas, or else the size and importance of them were nothing against this great bull. The shot went in behind his ear to the brainpan, and he came down with a crash.
The gorillas screamed. Two of them clambered over the elephant's body like children, but the big male and his mate came toward us obliquely. I aimed at him, to bring him down or at least frighten them away from us, but they swerved, and the Express bullet caught the female in the head and killed her.
The big male stopped, and the others came back over the dead bull, and they stood about the dead female. They got down beside her, and they began to stroke her body. They made odd, soothing sounds, crooning, and the sound of them was like weeping. The face of the old man beside me went grey.
The gorillas grieved over the body for ten minutes, and then they picked it up gently, and carried it away through the trees.
I wanted to follow, but I knew that if I did I would have to kill another should they discover me, and at that moment I never wanted to kill a gorilla again. But in the morning I went out with three boys, following the spoor until we found the dead female.
Her friends had laid her at the foot of a tree, and they had broken down the bushes about her, and they had
covered her with branches.
* * *
In the Kivu district there was once quite a large colony of gorillas, and perhaps there still is. They were not the biggest gorillas you could find in Africa, smaller, that is, than those you found among the cedar and juniper of the Ituri Forest, but they were big enough to look at without bars between you both.
I was at Stanleyville when I heard that the Belgians were abandoning an experimental rubber and coffee plantation at La Romee, and since I had the land-buying fever then I thought I would go up and see if the plantation were worth buying. I was living there in one of the brick huts when a native came in and said there was a large tusker in the forest. I went out after it and it led us for fifteen miles before I was able to kill it. It was not a good kill, it was a very bad kill, or else that tusker had an evil spirit, for I fired twenty-nine shells into it before it came down. And when they were fired I had no more ammunition.
I was too far from the plantation to return that night so I stayed in the native village. It was a noisy night. The natives fired guns and beat drums, and in the morning I was told that the village had been under siege from a tribe of chimpanzees. I asked the natives to go out and get me a young one, alive, for I still had ideas of getting one for Hagenbeck, but they smiled, and suggested that the Bwana come along.
We were out for two hours, and then I saw something pacing about in a glade ahead, and it was far too big for a chimpanzee, who can be big enough. This was a grizzled male gorilla in a very bad temper.
The natives were armed with brass-bound muzzle-loaders. When they saw this gorilla their little faces twisted with hatred. I would have been happier to let the thing go, I had no ammunition, and I did not trust their guns. I said, leave it, come away.
But two of them stood up and fired at the gorilla. I saw the scrap iron snapping at the branches all round the gorilla, and I saw its skin shudder as some pieces hit, the way a horse will twitch to be rid of flies. Then it roared, and flailed the air with its arms. Three other gorillas, which had been chatting in the brush, rose up quickly and padded away, but the old male went over to the offensive.
It caught one of the natives while the man was trying to recharge his muzzle-loader, and it picked him up by the throat and squeezed, and I heard the crack of the neck breaking. Another native ran in with a squeal, and beat the gorilla with the butt of his musket. The gorilla took the gun away from him and smashed his skull with it.
The others closed in, shouting, and they fired a volley. The gorilla was now bleeding on its chest and face, and one eye had been torn away. The other was red. It is an old simile, but it glowed like a coal, a black coal sunk in fire, with the ebony of the pupil and the blood of the reddened rim. The gorilla's mouth opened to shriek.
When it caught a native in its hands it slew quickly and dropped the body. The natives darted in and fired, and dodged away, and the gorilla stood on its bow legs and died magnificently in the blue smoke of gunpowder, roaring, snatching, killing, until there were six bodies at its feet.
At last three natives went within the gorilla's reach, pushing the muzzles of their muskets against the body as they fired. One had his arm pulled out as the gorilla went down, and the others swarmed out, screaming, spitting at the gorilla and firing their guns into its body long after it was dead. They left it there.
It was over six feet tall. Its chest measured eighty-six
inches, and it must have weighed nearly 600 pounds.
* * *
I was following an elephant in the Ituri Forest when I saw a gorilla kill a leopard.
I found the leopard first. It had snatched a young monkey and was eating the entrails when I drove it away with a bullet that broke its right hind-leg. I trailed it, and the trail was easy. There was very little underbush in the trees and much blood on the earth. But for an animal on three legs only it made good speed, and I followed at the double. It went for an abandoned village, where the empty huts were throttled by vine, and where, standing in the path of the leopard, was a man.
I shouted to him to beware of the leopard, and then I saw that this was not a man but a gorilla.
Neither gorilla nor leopard would give way in that narrow street. The gorilla pulled back its lips and roared, and the leopard went down on its belly, shuffled, and leapt at the gorilla's head. The gorilla caught it by the throat with a casual, upward, holding sweep of its arm, and it held the threshing cat there while it slowly wrenched at each limb.
The leopard died bravely, but it died, and the gorilla tossed it on the ground and walked on it, pounded with great feet until it was satisfied. It dragged the leopard by the tail to the foot of a castor-oil tree, and left it there. It scratched the blood on its chest, and went away.
I went over to the leopard and prodded its body with my rifle. It was as soft and as unresisting as a feather pillow.
I bought a young gorilla once, from a Portuguese engineer on a Congo stern-wheeler. The engineer thought it was a chimp. He had the gorilla in the bows of his ship, in a cage, and the gorilla crouched in this little space like a black cloud of sorrow. I bought him, and with him I bought an equally unhappy young chimp and a young leopard.
The engineer said I could have the gorilla for a thousand francs, but first he was going to tame it. He was going up-river and he would have the animal tamed before he returned. But when he came back the gorilla was dead. He had died the way a human will
sometimes die, by deciding not to live.
* * *
I bought and sold many chimpanzees. I had one that went down with fever and would have died, but I gave him injections of quinine, and I gave him milk and eggs and nursed him like a baby, and although my young leopard bit a piece from his ear, he lived.
There are supposed to be eight principal families of chimpanzees, but the three I was familiar with had not been classified then. They lived in the Congo forests, and the Mabuti pygmies were said to be their cousins. In fact, the other natives, who thought pygmies let down the tone of the continent, claimed that you could not tell where a chimpanzee left off and a Mabuti began.
My chimpanzee friends belonged to the Stanleyville sept, and these are believed to be the biggest and the most human, if you have no objection to the word. They can be as tall as young gorillas, and when they are adult they cannot be kept in captivity. Like the gorillas they can will themselves to death.
Even a young chimp will go on a hunger strike when you catch him. But after a while he gives in, and his disagreeable mood thaws into embarrassing affection.
I have seen as many as thirty chimpanzee in the Ituri, and natives have told me that they have seen colonies of more than fifty, but this I do not believe. Even with a rifle you have, at the best, even odds with a disgruntled chimp. When he goes up to fight he has the pink face of a senile old man, and the superb body of an athlete. He must be killed, if it is killing you are after, with the first shot, for even when wounded he will take a gazelle's leap and kill you.
The Stanleyville natives hated chimps. Colonies of them would strip the gardens from end to end, indifferent to the firing of guns, the shouting, the horns blowing. They ate until they were satisfied, and if they were not satisfied they would move into the village and raid the huts.
My greatest friend was Soko. I captured him when he was young, when I was hunting around Stanleyville, and he refused to eat for three days after I captured him, but sat with his knees under his chin, and his long pink bands over his ridiculous ears. But finally a pot of jam broke down his reserve, and he forgot that I had shot his mother. I had to shoot her. She was 5 ft. 2 in., and 52 in. around the chest, and she was in a bad temper. But
when I had shot her, and took Soko from her, I saw that the skin on her face was almost as pink as a European's. She had mutton-chop whiskers and she looked quite ridiculous, even in death.
Soko forgot her. He learned to use a sewing-machine, to clean his teeth, to sit at a table with me. And he loved me so much that he was jealous of every other beast I captured. I once took a fledgling marabou from a nest, and this grew up on the launch with us, finding its own food along the bank. I grew quite fond of it, so Soko wrung its neck.
I took him back to England with me when I went home for the war in 1914. He was enlisted, too, at the recruiting office, but there was not much he could do in the war so I handed him over to the Philadelphia Zoo.
He was quite human, which, in view of men like Hoonan and Peffer and Schultz, may not be a compliment.