A man bought a gorilla and let it live with his sister. Nobody could have guessed what would happen next.
The "great apes" include gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans and are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. They are extremely intelligent creatures that live in groups with complex social structures. Those who have spent enough time with these magnificent animals have quickly noticed how much they resemble us.
One case that made this similarity undeniable was the story of a gorilla called "John Daniel" who lived in the small English town of Uley at the beginning of the 20th century. His parents had been killed by French soldiers in Gabon. The orphaned gorilla was then sold and taken to England. In 1917, Rupert Penny from Uley discovered the animal in a London pet store and bought him for 300 Pounds (that would be $30,000 today).
Rupert took the gorilla home with him and named him John Daniel. But when it came to attaching human qualities to the gorilla, he didn't stop at the name. He let the gorilla live with his sister Alice and she raised the animal as if it were a human child.
Eventually John Daniel started going out for walks with the children in the town and became an accepted and celebrated member of the community. He even participated in the traditional afternoon tea. The children would often put him in a wheelbarrow and take him for a tour through the town.
John Daniel was famous for his appetite, enjoying a glass of cider from time to time. Apparently his table manners were impeccable.
Until recently there were still people in Uley who remembered their very special neighbor. They would laugh while telling stories about how he loved to raid their rose gardens and make a meal of the finest blooms.
Despite all the smiles, this story did not have a happy ending. When John Daniel reached adulthood, Alice could no longer care for him properly and decided to send him to the United States in the hopes that he would find a good home there.
Unfortunately, that's not what happened. John Daniel was bought by a circus ringmaster and put on display in a zoo. The poor gorilla missed his "mommy" so much that his health began to decline rapidly. He would barely eat and became extremely withdrawn. When news of this got back to Alice, she immediately went to the States and tried to find her beloved John Daniel so she could take him home.
Unfortunately for John Daniel, she was too late.
Shortly before Alice arrived, John Daniel died from a lung infection. That was in 1921. His body was preserved and is now on display in a museum in New York. His story shows just how intelligent our hairy relatives really are.
Gorillas that grow up around humans are capable of learning our behavior and living among us. And when we look closer, it's clear to see that these animals are capable of complex emotions that resemble ours in many ways.
John Daniel was much more then "just" an ape. For a time, he was a well-loved part of a community. Nevertheless, if there's one thing to take away from this story, it's that wild animals are best off when they're left in their natural habitats.