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Binti the Gorilla

Binti the gorilla made headlines all over the world with her humanitarian act. Gorillas can be both aggressive and amiable to humans. The wildside section discusses unusual animal activities and grassroots conservation projects.

Binti, Interspecies Relations:
Wildlife Conservation
Some Thoughts on a Humanitarian Act

Copyright © By Dr. Anthony Rose

With the interest of people across North America focused on an event involving a captive gorilla and an injured human child, it seems timely to post some of my findings and thoughts about such events.

I have been collecting & analyzing data, writing, and talking about human-wildlife interaction for quite a few years. In fact, on the day that Binti the gorilla was helping save a human life at Brookfield Zoo, I was giving a paper at a conference in Montreal about how profound interspecies events (PIEs: Rose, 1994) of different types effect our perceptions of other animals and alter our world-view (Rose, 1996d). A few days earlier we heard from a panel of distinguished primatologists in a roundtable I organized on a similar topic for the IPS/ASP Congress (Rose, 1996b).

Binti's altruistic action, and Jambo's (P-T: 8/29), and the monkey that fed the WW2 pilot in the tree (PT:8/30), are part of a long list of interventions in which other animals approach, help, and affect humans in need. Marc Cusano's rescue by the alpha chimpanzee "Old Man" at Lion Country Safari (Goodall, 1993) is oft cited and has served as a model for those events in which great apes and other wild/non-domestic animals Seek A Friendly Encounter with a human (SAFE Scenario; Rose, 1996a).

While some argue whether these are natural (innate) or learned behaviors, it is generally felt that they are both evolutionary and experientially developed and driven. Chimpanzee alphas have been observed breaking up fights in their groups (Boehm, 1994) -- Cusano had become a member of the group, so Old Man charged into the fray, pulled the attackers off his buddy Marc, and stood guard (Cusano, 1995).

Gorillas adopt and care for injured and orphaned youngsters in their communities (Fossey, 1985) -- Binti has learned to include humans in her community, so she cares for the fallen human child. This may sound matter of fact, but it is far from it in my view.

No matter what the circumstance, it is profoundly important to have evidence of the way other primates include us in their social groups, consider us as friends, and care for us as kin. Cusano was integrated into the chimpanzee groups he tended at Lion Country Safari for 7 years -- his interactive learnings go way beyond the Old Man rescue in year two. I spent a day discussing these experiences with Marc and only scratched the surface. Binti has come to consider humans other than her keepers as part of her kinship group -- her interactive and instructive potential is unquestionably expanded.

Biologists and comparative psychologists are long overdue in systematizing the study of human involvement in interspecies phenomena. In this world where humans impinge with increasing frequency and vigor on every other animal, we need to investigate our interaction with others as much as their "normal" behavior with our influence minimized.

As a wildlife conservationist, I have focused on interaction among varied groups of humans, apes, and other primates. Stanford (1996) writes that chimpanzees refrain from hunting colobus when the monkeys are being followed by strange human researchers. When the chimps are habituated to human trackers, the predation rate increases (presumably to normal).

Questions arise. When the gorilla, chimp, or bonobo habituates to researchers (or tourists), how does it learn to differentiate and avoid its human hunters? How can one keep habituated apes from over close approach to familiar researchers and friendly tourists (to avoid disease transmission) without driving them off altogether? In what ways are ape and monkey cultures adapting to and learning from even the most stand-offish human interlopers? These questions all relate to the non-human primates' reactions to shifts in the perceived behavior of humans from predator to observer to caretaker to kin (See Davis & Balfour,1993).

The human side of these processes is at least as important, not only to better understand the animals, but to better manage ourselves in relation to them. The health and science inclination to neutralize human impact on the animals is begging the question -- there is always impact of observer on the observed. We must study and determine the value and importance of the interactions, both ways.

I am concerned about the development of positive conservation values. My research on the events that cause the human world-view to shift from anthropocentric to bio-centric strongly indicates that a potent factor in transforming a human into a protector of wildlife is friendly interaction with the animals needing protection (Rose, 1996a,d). This is likely to hold for bushmeat hunters as it does for students, zoo-keepers, and ethologists.

This is why I am looking at the development of wildlife sanctuaries and education centers as a key element in the African forest bushmeat programme (Rose, 1996c). Given the choice of letting an orphan gorilla die or helping it become part of a local program to teach people to respect and care for the apes, I will opt for the latter. If we expand and use what we know about the effects of wildlife interaction on human values, we will be able to speed the development and long-term effectiveness of community-based conservation efforts.

As I step up my research with focus on the African bushmeat crisis, I need more input regarding inter-species interaction involving humans and wild or captive nonhuman primates. I am especially looking for anecdotes and studies that may reflect on the shift of humans from predator to protector, both in behavior and in human self-perception. So I ask all of you who have information about such experiences with other primates, or any other "wild" animals for that matter, to contribute to our data base. It would be valuable to share such stories here on PT -- exploring these events with others can enrich our understanding On the other hand, I know that many of these tales and findings are tenuous and private, and so I also invite you to write, call, fax, or e-mail me directly if you want to contribute, or become involved in any way.

The Binti story is a profound event that is instructive and symbolic. When a human child who lost his parents falls into gentle gorilla hands and is saved, it is a signal for us to return the favor. Today in central Africa a gorilla baby struggles in the hands of a hunter deciding whether to keep it or kill it, while the mother is being butchered for the meat market. We must engender the will to protect natural heritage in the hunter and all who support the commercial bushmeat trade, if we are to save these babies and protect their mothers and fathers. Our humanity and the survival of great apes depends on it.


Boehm, C., 1994. Personal communication, Claremont, California.

Cusano, M., 1995. Personal communication, West Palm Beach, Florida.

Davis, H.; Balfour, A. D. 1993. The Inevitable Bond: Examining Scientist-Animal Interactions. New York, Cambridge University Press.

Fossey, D., 1985. Gorillas in the Mist. Houghton-Mifflin, Boston, 1983.

Goodall, J., 1993. Chimpanzees -- bridging the gap. P. 17 in Cavalieri, P.; Singer, P. (eds.), The Great Ape Project, St. Martin's Press, New York.

Rose, A. L., 1996d. Epiphanies with Animals and Nature Transform the Human Weltbildapparatur. Paper for Symposium on Human-Animal Interaction, International Society of Comparative Pschology, Montreal, 1996.

Rose, A. L., 1996c. The African Great Ape Bushmeat Crisis. Workshop conducted at the Joint Congress of International Primatological Society & American Society of Primatologists, Madison, Wisc..

Rose, A. L., 1996b. Breaking the Silence: Enhancing the Use of Personal Experience in Primatology. Panel/Round-table designed and chaired for Joint Congress of International Primatological Society & American Society of Primatologists, Madison, Wisc..

Rose, A. L., 1996a. Orangutan, Science, and Collective Reality. Pp. 29 -- 40 in Orangutan -- TheNeglected Ape. (Eds: R. Nadler, B. Galdikas, N. Rosen, & L. Sheeran), Plenum Press, New York.

Rose, A. L., 1994. Description & Analysis of Profound Interspecies Events (Pies). Scientific paper in Proceedings of the XVth Congress of International Primatological Society, Bali, Indonesia.

Stanford, C., 1996. The Colobus and the Chimpanzee. Harvard U. Press, Cambridge, Mass. (in press).

About the Author:

Dr. Anthony Rose is a social psychologist and writer, director of the Biosynergy Institute, and founder of The Bushmeat Project, building international partnerships to help the people of equatorial Africa develop alternatives to eating apes and other endangered wildlife.

Anthony Rose has spent the past decade investigating humankind's profound relationships to wildlife and nature. He has written two novels that focus on the human-ape connection, lectured to international conferences, published articles in scientific anthologies and journals, studied people and primates in Africa, Central America, and Asia. Dr. Rose can be reached at: or


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