Someone, I respect in this field of research, asked me a question.
One, I really had to think about:
"Would we be doing this undocumented animal any favors by finding it? Would this animal become nothing more than another Zoo exhibit? Have you seen a gorilla exhibit? Do they look happy to you?" "Do you think finding this animal will help it or hurt it?"
Is it possible to document this animal and leave it alone?
The question wasn’t posed in an angry tone at all, but I will say it did give me pause. I did not know what to say. Then just today I read a post on a Bigfoot Message board that basically asked, are we looking for this animal to protect it - or to just satisfy our own curiosity? If we really wanted to help it, why not do what we can to protect its habitat? Hum, another question that made me think, and one which I had no answer to.
I often find I have no answers...
These questions strike right at the heart of what is the most important thing to me, the protection of this animal should it be discovered.
Last year, before my move to Dallas, I went to a zoo with a Lowlands Gorilla Exhibit. I had to see this, as I have never seen Gorillas up close before.
I jumped in a car and happily drove to see this for myself.
When I arrived I made a Bee-line for the exhibit. When I reached the exhibit, I saw massive walls made out of greyish stone and large trees and shrubs with vines, to mimic the gorillas natural habitat (I’m sure it was a far cry from it however). I then noticed an opening in the wall with a ledge and what I am assuming (and hoping) was bullet proof glass. Inside the exhibit there was lots of dirt, some grass and about 4 Lowland Gorillas, all sitting around the large trunk of a tree.
Gorillas are magnificent animals.
I have always marveled at them. They have such power and strength. You cannot look at these animals and not be in awe. I looked through the glass, and a few feet out sat a large male. I could only assume it was a male, he was much larger than the rest and from his demeanor he seemed to be the one in charge.
What a sight to behold. As he sat there with his back to me, the sunlight seemed to bounce off his hair. I never realized how shiny the hair on a gorilla really was until that moment. I could see the muscle definition on his back, shoulders and arms. This was a very strong animal.
I sat down on the ledge next to the glass and watched him, as he sat with his back to me surveying his area, when he turned his whole body around, to look behind him. I instantly stood up (I forgot I was behind this protective glass for a couple seconds). I then slowly sat back down, as I did so, he slowly made his way to the glass and sat down in the corner next to the window, against the rock wall - and promptly turned his head away from me.
Humm - How rude I thought.
I held my place - I wanted to see what he would do. Does he know I’m right here? What does this animal think when he looks at a human? Would he pound the glass? Would he be calm and gentle? Only questions I can ponder while staring at this beautiful animal.
Every so often he would glance over in my direction,
Then slowly look away, as if I was annoying him. I honestly thought to myself, "well, that is a silly thought to be having, this animal doesn’t think like I do, or a human." I tried to stay very still; I didn’t want him to go away. I was really enjoying this. For the first time in my life - I was inches away from a Gorilla. I was fascinated, and I had a thought.
What would he do if?
I took my right index finger and slowly put it up to the glass. For the first few minutes this gorilla would look at me, and then turn away. I think he even turned his nose up at me a couple times. None of the chest beating or vocalizations I would expect from a Gorilla - he just sat there, he looked at me, and then looked away.
My heart almost stopped.
I could not believe my eyes, when this Gorilla, took his hand - and put his index finger on the other side of the glass from mine....... I could see the wrinkles in his fingers, the tough leathery skin, his black fingernails, I was so amazed, I broke out in a sweat. This was the most unreal moment of my life. I could not believe what I was seeing. I then slowly put my palm against the window to see what his reaction would be. It was then I noticed he was no longer looking away. As I looked at him - I noticed something - and it broke my heart and this was no longer fun.
He was sad. I could see it in his eyes.
He stared at my hand and looked in my eyes and I could tell he was sad. He sat there with his finger which became more finger tips pressed on the glass where my hand was. This was very upsetting to me. I didn’t see the fire - that look of power and strength. He then began to look out toward the other gorillas, then back to me.
Do animals get sad?
Do they know this is not where they belong, when they are in a Zoo? If your answer is "an animal has no way of knowing they are not in their natural habitat" - tell me how you know that? How does anyone know the answer to that question?
I then decided it was time for me to go.
I had seen enough. I know what I saw was not in my mind, as I could hear other people behind me saying, "Look how sad he is," and gasping as he kept his fingertips pressed on the glass. I am not an animal rights activist and I’m pretty sure if I had climbed into that exhibit - that animal that had touched my heart, could have done some serious damage to me. This was an experience I had never had before, I never looked at an animal and thought about how they might feel about where they are, or how humans have affected their lives.
Would a Bigfoot end up on display in a zoo?
If documented, I’m sure someone will try, in the name of Science to try and help the species survive. Is that the best thing for this animal we all seek?? I cannot say it is. I think as researchers we should do whatever we can to help document this animal - in its natural habitat - and leave it there. I will not go along with the idea that the best way to help it, is to capture one and put it in a zoo, and show it to the world for the price of admission. I think Jane Goodall is doing fine with her research in the wilds of Africa.
We as human beings can and do change the behavior of animals -- regardless of what we do.
But, why make it any worse? Yes, having Gorillas on exhibit in Zoos around the world has helped in educating the masses about them. I do think there is a better way though - and I think it’s exactly what has been done by Jane Goodall and the late Diane Fossey - study these animals in their natural habitat.
I think we as researchers have a decision to make.
If I were to get this animal on film - and it was good enough to prove the existence, would I show it to the world? Yes. Would I tell anyone where to find the animal (if I knew) maybe a general area, but I would not put out enough information that would give someone the ability to find this animal and kill it - or capture it for study. Will this opinion make me, "Popular," I can’t say it will. But, I will not be party to putting this animal on display, or seeing it killed in the "interest of science".
If hard work, dedication, getting dirty and exposing yourself, to a bit of danger is good enough for Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey it’s good enough for me.
I have asked this question that has been weighing heavily on my mind,to some of the other researchers, I have profiled on this blog. I will be publishing their responses as time goes on. :)