Gorillas were first described by a westerner about 2,500 years ago. Hanno the Carthaginian wrote of his travels down the west coast of Africa, telling of many places and animals along the way, including strange creatures such as the  “water horse” (hippos), and the previously unknown gorilla. Gorillas, he believed, were simply very hairy human beings–a mistake encouraged by their native interpreters, whose word “gorilla” meant “hairy person.” Hanno’s group encountered a gorilla troop which threatened them by throwing rocks as part of their display, and the Carthaginians gave chase. Three female gorillas were captured and killed–a very unfortunate introduction to another culture if the Carthaginians really believed these creatures to be people! Hanno took their skins home to show others these strange “hairy persons.”

The resemblance of gorillas and other great apes to people is the reason they are called anthropoid (“man-like”) apes. What are some of the things you noticed about gorillas when you read your latest Zoobooks issue?  Their size makes them very different from us, and their overall hairiness, too–and the fact they are more powerfully and massively built than we are. But other traits, like fingerprints, opposable thumbs, and the way they care (both for and about) their young, will seem very familiar to us.

Gorilla tourism is becoming more popular, and we would like to hear about your experience if you have seen one of these endangered animals in the wild–we’re guessing you would have been much more respectful than Hanno. Perhaps we will be able to recount your tale in the next edition of Zoobooks Gorillas!

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