Signs Suggest Gorilla Knew Boy Belonged With Humans
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn — Eyewitness accounts of a young boy’s rescue by a female gorilla at a
zoo near Chicago suggest the animal knew the child belonged with humans, a University of
Tennessee anthropologist said Monday.
“The fact that she took the boy to the door shows some sense that ‘this boy belongs with you,”
said UT-Chattanoga’s Dr. Lyn Miles who in 1978-86 taught an orangutan to communicate with her
through sign language.
“It’s quite remarkable,” Miles said.
The child, 3, fell 18 feet into a primate exhibit in a zoo at Brookfield, Ill., Friday and injured his
head. The gorilla, Binti Jua, picked up the child, cradled him in her arms and placed him near the
door where zookeepers retrieved him.
Binti had been raised by humans and was taught nurturing skills when she gave birth 18 months
ago, zoo officials said.
“If she had been merely curious, she might have carried the boy to a tree and inspected him,”
Miles said. “If she had been afraid, she might have thrown things at the boy or slammed him to the
ground several times.”
Instead, according to zookeepers, the 8-year-old gorilla, with her baby on her back, appeared to be
protective of the injured boy and even turned away with the child when another gorilla approached.
“What she did shows some sense that ‘this boy belongs with you (humans), doesn’t really belong
in here,” Miles said.
“With any captive animals, as great or as smart as they are, they are very unpredictable,” she said.
“Gorillas tend to be afraid of strange things and might have kept a distance, or they could have seen
the child as a threat, as something that didn’t belong in their enclosure, and could have killed the
Each of the gorillas in the enclosure might have reacted differently, Miles said. “So it’s partly the
luck of the draw that this one gorilla was close by and had some experience with humans,” she
The injured boy’s condition has improved from critical to fair at Loyola University Medical Center.
Miles for nine years at UTC taught Chantek, an orangutan, to used 150 signs, understand 500 signs
and comprehend several thousand English words. She said she raised Chantek as a child, not as a
Chantek, now 19, grew too large for the facilities where he was housed at UT-Chattanooga and in
1986 was transferred to the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta.
Contact: Dr. Lyn Miles (423-755-4364)