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In an unprecedented experiment, a young scientist and his wife set out to share the daily life of giant gorillas in Africa's mountains. Here is the exclusive story of what they found—plus the first close-up pictures ever made of gorillas in their native wild

For the first time in history a man and woman, alone and unarmed, have gone among wild gorillas to live with them on a basis of friendly coexistence. George B. Schaller, a young biologist from the University of Wisconsin, and his pretty blonde wife Kay are now in the Belgian Congo engaged in the first protracted study of gorilla life ever made under natural, undisturbed conditions. How closely Schaller has entered into their lives is shown in the extraordinary pictures on these and the following pages which he took as he sat among the gorillas and watched them eat and sleep and play through long days in the African wilds.

Reacting to his calm, nonbelligerent approach, the gorillas have accepted him in a spirit of cautious curiosity. This mutual tolerance has resulted in scenes which have never before taken place between the world's two largest primates. At times Schaller has found himself in the midst of a troop of gorillas, with the animals staring at him from all sides. He has stood face to face with a gorilla, looking into its deep brown eyes at a distance of six feet. On occasion he has sat on the same limb with them. He has devoted day after day to watching their every movement, while they returned the scrutiny with such avid interest that it became a question of who was making the most intensive study of whom. He now knows their moods, their expressions and their reactions. Bundled in his sleeping bag, he has passed nights at the edge of gorilla troops curled in their individual nests, and once he awakened to find one sound asleep only a few feet from him.

In consequence, Schaller already has assembled a mass of data on the life history and behavior of the wild gorillas that are new to science. Furthermore, his observations in total present a picture of this largest of the anthropoid apes that is almost directly opposite to the popular conception. Ever since Paul du Chaillu, the French explorer, published his exaggerated accounts of wild gorillas a hundred years ago, the concept of this animal as a ferocious, ill-tempered, man-hating beast has grown in the public mind. Motion pictures portraying the gorilla with a beautiful blonde slung over its shoulder have added to the characterization.

By contrast, the Schallers have found the gorilla to be an amiable animal which lives in peace with others of its kind and with the world around it; a creature which attacks man only under the severest provocation; an unusual mammal whose life is so placid that even sex is incidental and not worth fighting about. Schaller's studies also show the need for continuing investigations of the gorilla and the great need for its preservation.

These new facts concerning the gorilla will be included in a scientific report when Schaller returns next summer. Meanwhile, he has sent to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED lengthy accounts of his life with the gorillas and the things he has learned about them.

The two-year gorilla study is being financed by the National Science Foundation and the New York Zoological Society. Before establishing a permanent camp in the Congo, Schaller and Dr. John T. Emlen, supervisor of the project and professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin, devoted six months to studying the habitat and distribution of the mountain gorilla and to locating the most favorable site at which to study its social behavior.

They decided on the region of the Virunga Volcanoes in Albert National Park (see map) because its vegetation is better suited to continuous observation than the denser jungles, and the gorillas have rarely met man. There, in the high mountain forest, George and Kay Schaller began the unique experiment in August 1959.

The essence of Schaller's technique in getting on friendly terms is unobtrusiveness. "Previous expeditions sent to study the gorilla," he writes, "always ventured into the forest with gunbearers, camera carriers, trackers and porters. As recently as 1953 an expedition to the Virunga Volcanoes arrived with 120 porters and finished their supposed study without ever having seen a g~orilla. Even if gorillas are encountered by such expeditions, the animals usually flee or, if closely pressed, attack."


"Dr. Emlen and I reasoned that no animal likes to be approached by a horde of people. We decided to go alone and unarmed. It worked well. Now, even if I am accompanied by a park guard, I make him stay behind when the gorillas are near. Slowly, in plain sight, I approach a troop of feeding or resting gorillas to within 80 to 150 feet, depending on the terrain and visibility.

"I sit quietly, often on a stump or on the low branch of a tree, and seemingly pay little attention to them. If they move off, I never follow, for attacks are most likely in pursuit. This policy has paid off. The gorillas have become used to my sitting near them day after day, and I have never been charged. Instead of moving off, they continue their daily routine as if I did not exist. This, of course, is the ideal way to study the social behavior of an animal, and in the past eight months I have observed them over 450 hours.

"Usually the animals are so close that I do not need my binoculars. Gorillas, like dogs or men, get very uneasy when stared at directly, so the use of cameras and binoculars must not be too continuous.

"At times my wife accompanies me, but the gorillas appear more nervous at the sight of two people. I always wear the same drab clothes day after day. I do all my own tracking. By following their trails of broken vegetation I have plotted their movements and activity for as long as 27 consecutive days."

The fact that he is unarmed, Schaller reasons, is important in getting the gorillas to accept him on equal terms. He feels that if he carried a gun, even though he never used it, the mere possession of the weapon would give him an assertiveness which the gorillas could detect. He has sought simply to give himself the role of another friendly primate who comes around every day but minds his own business. The method has worked, not with just one gorilla band but with many. Up to the last report received from Schaller, he had come to know 16 gorilla troops, ranging in size from five to 30 animals.

In this role he has watched a massive male remain placidly indifferent while four babies played around him and crawled all over him. On one occasion he just missed seeing the actual birth of a gorilla in the wild. When he came upon the scene, the afterbirth was still present and the mother was administering to the scrawny infant.


At such intimate and exciting moments, Schaller found, the response of the gorillas to his presence is varied. "The adult males are the most excitable members of a troop," he reports. "Since the male is also the leader of the troop, the reaction of all depends on him. If he is in a nervous mood and moves off, everyone follows, even if they were all sleeping. When excited, the males roar, beat their chests and dash about. Females, by contrast, rarely get excited; they are very placid and only now and then beat their chests.

"Females, young males and juveniles are much more curious than the adult males. Whereas the old male may hide and just peek from behind a screen of weeds, young males will angle closer and closer to me, seemingly oblivious of my presence. Females, usually with a baby on their back or on their chest, will sit on exposed stumps or climb into the trees nearest to where I sit and watch me for hours.

"There is also," he continued, "great individual variation in the distance to which they dare approach me. Young males have come to six feet. A female with a baby once climbed onto the same branch with me, as did a young male. Usually, however, they do not come closer than 30 feet. Once they know me well I can sit 60 to 80 feet away without annoying them, although they prefer 120 to 150 feet.

"Nothing is more silent than a resting gorilla troop. I have stumbled among them and found myself either surrounded or face to face with an animal. Here the rule is not to panic but to quietly and slowly back away or just sit. Gorillas never behave aggressively if your actions do not convey aggressiveness. Thus, at my presence, a troop may either move away—usually not more than 100 yards—or they may come closer to look me over well; or they may ignore me except for an occasional glance, all depending on how well they know me."

At no time did Schaller experience anything to substantiate the ferocious legend that has been created about the gorilla in most people's minds. "In fact," he reports, "I have never encountered or studied animals which behave so gently and with such friendliness toward each other and toward man. They are shy and appear introverted if compared to the extravert chimpanzee. Zoo gorillas have often been labeled as 'dull' because of their apparent lack of liveliness. They are far from dull. Their self-contained, deliberate movements convey assurance and peace of mind—a complete contrast to the chimpanzee. Their amiable eyes are a soft brown. They look at the world with curiosity and they usually appear somewhat bemused. The gorilla is not easily aroused but when he is his eyes express it well. But as soon as the danger is past he immediately settles down again. The gorilla becomes aggressive only when hunted repeatedly or if his family is harassed."


The mountain gorilla, which was not discovered until 1903, is primarily confined to the Kivu Province of the Belgian Congo. It is nearly identical to the lowland gorilla, which is found 1,000 miles to the west. Although preferring forested country, the mountain gorilla is found from the hot, humid rain forest at 1,500 feet up to the cold, wet mountain forests at altitudes of 6,000 to 12,000 feet. At times mountain gorillas venture upward out of the forest to 13,500 feet.

Schaller's survey shows that the mountain gorilla's distribution is more extensive than supposed. Population estimates are nearly impossible to make, but he believes there are at least 3,000 animals and possibly as many as 15,000.

The site which he and Dr. Emlen chose for the study is in prime gorilla country—and it is scenically beautiful and historically significant as well. "Our cabin lies on the edge of a small meadow—called Kabara—which is located at 10,200 feet, in the saddle between Mikeno and Karisimbi, surrounded on every side by forest," writes Schaller. "The cabin is a rather crude shack with a leaky tin roof and large spaces between the hand-hewn boards. The wind whistles through our three rooms, and evenings, when the temperature drops below 40° and as low as freezing, we sit huddled around our small iron stove. Carl Akeley, the great American sculptor and naturalist, lies buried a little over a hundred feet from our doorstep. From the front door we can see Mount Karisimbi, over 14,500 feet high and frequently touched with snow.

"We spent five consecutive months in isolation and saw but one white man for a day in that time. In January we descended for two weeks to buy more supplies. We live on tinned goods except for occasional fresh vegetables sent up to us by the park.

"We also keep several chickens. My wife bakes bread and cakes in a tiny portable camp oven. We have two Africans with us—a camp boy to chop wood, and a park guard, who sometimes goes out with me. In the past six months we probably have averaged about three to seven partially cloudy days per month—never a clear day.

"We rise at sunup at 6 a.m., check the weather, take the temperature, start a fire in the stove and settle down to a big bowl of oatmeal topped with brown sugar. By 7, or later if the gorillas are very close to the cabin, I set out into the dew-soaked forest. I track the gorillas until I find them, observe them anywhere from one to seven hours, then return home, usually wet. While I change clothes, Kay prepares me a cup of hot bouillon, and I warm up by the fire. Sometimes, if I have time, I set off again and watch another troop, collect and preserve plants, do chores or pick blackberries.

"During the evenings I transcribe my notes, make maps of gorilla movements, do correspondence, read or just sit by the fire. We're usually in bed at 8 p.m. This routine varies. If the fog is so dense in the morning that I cannot see 50 feet, I must wait until it lifts; sometimes I take my sleeping bag and sleep all night at the edge of a gorilla troop to record their bedtime, rising time, etc. In general, my time is adapted to the daily schedule of the gorillas."

Schaller reports the daily routine of a gorilla troop as follows:

"They begin to feed soon after waking. Gorillas are very choosy eaters. Of some plants they eat only the leaves, of others only the bark, the root or the pith. They carefully pick off the dead parts or tough bark. They chew with their mouths open, and their lips often smack and they grumble contentedly. Each animal sits in its own little spot, and the pile of uneaten debris accumulates around it. They eat about 25 different kinds of plants around Kabara. Most of these taste rather bitter to me; some taste just like any leaf; others are fairly palatable, tasting like radishes, or slightly sour. Gorillas are complete vegetarians.

"Sometimes they climb into the trees to feast on a fern which grows on the branches or on the smilaxlike vines which creep up on the trunks. Gorillas are deliberate climbers, at times rather clumsy, and fairly poor judges of which branches can bear their weight. Their climbing ability does not appear to exceed that of a 12-year-old boy, although on vertical trunks their short legs give better support than the long ones of man. The large males rarely climb. I have never seen gorillas swing from branch to branch as they are often described as doing in literature.

"By 9:30 or 10 a.m. they are satiated. Although some animals will continue to snack, most begin their noon siesta, usually only 400 to 600 feet from their nests of the previous night. Many doze. If it rains they sit huddled over; if the sun shines they sunbathe on their backs. Mothers groom their babies, and juveniles clamber about on trees. This is the best time to observe them, for they do not move about and social interactions are frequent."


"Between 1 and 2 p.m. the male rises and the troop begins to feed again. They feed until about 5, more and more slowly as the afternoon progresses. Sometimes, after the noon rest period, the male apparently decides to travel, and the whole troop will move nearly a mile before feeding. Usually, however, after traveling less than a mile and as little as 350 feet, the troop will settle down for the night.

"Each animal builds a nest, which is used one night only. The gorilla, standing or sitting, bends in branches or weeds from all directions until a crude cup is formed. The nest may be either on the ground or in a tree. It takes anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes to construct. By 6 p.m. the gorilla sleeps, either on his belly, with arms and legs tucked under, or on his side. During the nights I have slept at the edge of a troop I have found they sleep very quietly and I have not yet heard them snore.

"Thus, the day of the gorilla consists of nearly 15 hours of sleep interspersed with feeding and sitting."

Although the gorillas are peaceful and nonaggressive, they do not live in an animal democracy. Schaller has made the following observations on their group behavior:

"The adult male, or one of several, is the boss and leader of the troop. He is the focus of attention of all other animals. When he moves, all heads turn to watch his actions. He determines when to go and where to go. When he builds his nest for the night all others do likewise. In fact, if the male changes his mind after the nests are built and he moves on, all the others get up from bed and abandon their efforts. The boss male is also the protector of the troop. It is he who stays behind and roars when the rest of the troop seeks safety. Once, when I came on them suddenly, the male grabbed a juvenile under his arm and raced downhill.

"Although he is boss and dictator he appears to be well liked. Females come up and lean against him and rest their heads upon his silver saddle, and babies will leave their mothers to sit by him. He is very tolerant of their young exuberance. I have seen a baby pull the long hairs on his crown with all its might and slap him in the face without eliciting a response. Babies climb and slide all over his back. When they become too wild he merely glances at them or gives them a light push and they desist.

"If there are several adult males in the troop, one is still the boss. The females pay little attention to these extra males. However, all adult males appear to have a right to the females; or rather, when sexually aroused, the females seem to choose a male. Communication is instantaneous—she walks up to the male of her choice and looks at him, and he does not linger. What follows is an action very human in all its phases. Unlike humans, though, the leader does not mind if another finds favor in his harem. This lack of emphasis on sex may well be a reason for the peace which prevails in a gorilla troop.

"Quarrels are very rare. I watched a quarrel during a rainstorm. Several animals had found shelter under the leaning trunk of a tree. A female tried to crowd in. Amid loud screaming and tooth-baring she was pushed out and had to seek shelter under another tree.

"Sounds made by the gorillas are expressive of their emotions. Some of these sounds, while not as symbolic as the human language, still have communicatory value. A distressful whimpering by a baby will bring the mother on the double. Screams of danger by the female and roars of annoyance by the male are correctly interpreted by all. For the most part, however, by keeping an eye on each other, gorillas know what is happening without needing recourse to vocal communication. I can now tell as well as a gorilla if the intention of a walking adult male is to travel away or if he is just seeking another resting place.

"Although adult males seem to have a definite pecking order, females assert their dominance so rarely that I do not know if they have a similar pecking order. Females may, however, boss a juvenile around, and juveniles, in turn, are dominant over babies.

"Many lone males roam the forest. These do not appear to be outcasts or old animals. They are either young or in the prime of life. They may join a troop for a while and then resume their lonely life, seemingly out of preference.

"The young are reared with great care. After a gestation period similar to that of man, the tiny baby, weighing about three or four pounds, is born. It is spidery and weak, and its belly and the inside of the arms and legs are devoid of hair. The female holds it tightly to her chest. By three months of age the baby is quite alert. It has its first teeth and it begins to gnaw on vegetation. Shakily it may ride on its mother's back. By five months it crawls away from its mother at times and clumsily tries to wrestle with other babies. Development is fast from now on. It gains assurance in climbing and it spends more time sitting near, rather than on, the mother. When the troop moves, it rides on her back and, although it continues to suckle until over a year and a half old, it is practically on a solid vegetable diet by eight months.

"Although the mother is still the primary focus of a year-old baby, it now ventures farther afield. It sits by the male and it seeks out juveniles and other babies in play. Babies wrestle and play follow-the-leader. A favorite game is king of the mountain. One baby sits on a stump, and others who try to climb up get a kick in the face.

"A year-old baby weighs about 15 pounds. By 2 years it is up to 35 pounds. It still rides on the back of its mother but often it walks behind her on two legs, holding onto her rump with its hands. It is quite a load for the female to carry and sometimes she pulls it off. By 2 and a half years the baby is nearly independent. It still sticks near its mother but may now sleep in its own nest. By the time the offspring is 3 years old, mother often has a new baby. Although all three may at times sleep in the same nest, the juvenile usually sleeps alone or teams up to sleep with another juvenile.

"At 3 years the gorilla weighs about 60 pounds. If the juvenile is a female it attains adulthood at about 6 or 7 years, males probably not until about 8 to 10 years. Adult females weigh about 150 to 250 pounds; adult males probably as much as 450 pounds."

Schaller has come to know many of his gorillas personally and recognizes them in the same way he would recognize individuals in a group of humans. They differ in character, and some have distinctive noses or wrinkles on their lips. Some have Franz Josef side whiskers, others appear to have crew cuts. Some have round faces, some long ones. Cuts, moles, patches of light-colored hair—all serve to identify his animals. He has given many of them names. He has never seen any indication of tool-using in the wild, but he is continually impressed by the similarity of their actions to those of men.

"Their anatomical similarity to man," he writes, "makes all their actions seem like a parody of their larger-brained relatives. They will carefully pick their nose with one finger and they will run their fingers through their long, black hair until an imperfection is noted; then they will pick at it. Man, running his hand through the hairy remnant on his head and picking at a pimple which he encounters during this inspection, shows similar behavior. Yawning gorillas are exactly like man in all movements and actions, and several times I have seen gorillas cover their mouths with one hand while sneezing."

Schaller says that the future of the gorilla, particularly in the isolated pockets, looks dark. He points out that the internationalization of Albert Park may save them, but he realizes that the human population explosion is sure to bring in man, their one enemy. In a hundred years or so he doubts that gorillas will exist outside nature reserves—if at all. In his last report he included the following tribute to his friends of the rain forest:

"In summary," he wrote, "we see that gorillas are shy but gentle, sociable, family-loving vegetarians who live in harems dominated by one benign boss. They lead a life of leisure, feeding and sleeping. Toward each other and toward other animals, including man, they are very tolerant, and the dictum of peaceful coexistence is their way of life. Sex to them is merely a function; they find no need to defend a territory against others of their own species. In many ways they already have achieved the kind of life man has sought for centuries.

"But in their very existence, free from want and free from problems, lies their downfall, for by having evolved into such a mode of life, they have probably given up some of their adaptability to face new situations, with the result that they have lost their only defense against rapacious man."



WILD GORILLAS, always advertised as a sight to chill men's blood, look up mildly as George Schaller takes their picture from less than 50 feet away in the deep African forest.





PRIME GORILLA COUNTRY of Africa lies in the eastern section of Albert National Park in Belgian Congo. Though the park is often visited by tourists and scientific parties, the area around Mikeno where Schaller made his observations is remote, and the animals there have only seldom encountered man.






Lake Kivu










[Areas cut out of park recently]Areas cut out of park recently

[Areas in which gorillas are found]Areas in which gorillas are found

[Main areas of observation]Main area of observation




















In becoming the first man to make a long-term study of gorilla home life, George B. Schaller is continuing a career crowded with research both in the laboratory and in the field. He was born in Germany 27 years ago and came to this country as a boy. His interest in wildlife and wilderness areas led him to enter the University of Alaska, where he met his wife Kay (shown here cradling a baby forest duiker), like himself a student of anthropology and zoology. In Alaska he obtained his B.S. degree in zoology and his B.A. degree in anthropology, adding an M.S. degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin. His field work includes a survey of the birds of Colville River, Alaska, work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service and, in 1956, a journey to the Brooks Range in Alaska as a member of the Murie Expedition.