What was the name of the sign-talking gorilla featured in Congo?
Answer
Something struck him lightly in the chest. At first he thought it was an insect but, glancing down at this khaki shirt, he saw a spot of red, and a fleshy bi of red fruit rolled down his shirt to the muddy ground. The damned monkeys were throwing berries. He bent over to pick it up. And then he realized that it was not a piece of fruit at all. It was a human eyeball, crushed and slippery in his fingers, pinkish white with a shred of white optic nerve still attached at the back.

He swung around and looked over to where Misulu was sitting on the rock. Misulu was not there.

Kruger moved across the campsite. Overhead, the colubus monkeys fell silent. He heard his boots squish in the mud as he moved past the tents of sleeping men. And then he heard the wheezing sound again. It was an odd, soft sound, carried on the swirling mourning mist. Kruger wondered if he had been mistaken, if it really was a leopard.

And he saw Misulu. Misulu lay on his back, in a kind of halo of blood. His skull had been crushed from the sides, the facial bones shattered, the face narrowed and elongated, the mouth open in an obscene yawn, the one remaining eye wide and bulging. The other eye had exploded outward with the force of impact.

Kruger felt his heart pounding as he bent to examine the body. He wondered what could have caused such an injury. And then he heard the soft wheezing sound again, and this time he felt quite sure it was not a leopard. Then the colubus monkeys began their shrieking, and Kruger lept to his feet and screamed.

-- Congo
I had always admired the H. Rider Haggard adventure story, "King Solomon's Mines," and I wanted to write a similar sort of Victorian adventure, set in the 20th century. I was also interested in the experimental attempts to teach apes to use language, and the implications of this research for animal rights, which in the late 1970s was a very obscure topic.

When the book was published, most reviewers found the character of Amy, the sign-language-using gorilla, too incredible to believe. This despite the fact that I had modeled Amy on a real signing gorilla, Koko, then at Stanford University. I considered Koko to be pretty famous. After all, she had been twice on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and once on the cover of the New York Times magazine. Koko had also been interviewed on television, where with quick hand gestures she complained about the bright lights, and told the TV interviewer to go away. But apparently, book reviewers had never heard of Koko.

To prepare for writing the book, I planned to go to Africa to see gorillas on the slopes of the Virunga volcano chain in eastern Congo. But at that time, there was a war between Tanzania and Uganda, and the eastern Congo were much too dangerous to visit. No one would take me there.

So I had to find substitutes. To experience volcanos, I went to Stromboli, off the coast of Sicily, a volcano which is continuously active. In those days you could just hike to the rim and watch the display as long as you wanted. For an experience in the rain forest, I went to Taman Negara in the jungles of Malaysia.

I never saw gorillas in the wild until two years after the book was published. Then I went to Rwanda, climbed the real volcanoes, and visited the real gorillas. This was a very powerful and emotional experience, which I wrote about in the book Travels






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