Primate Rescue Center

Untold Story of the English Village that Raised a Gorilla as a Boy

Erika Fleury January 26, 2017

The extraordinary life of an English village's resident gorilla that had its own bedroom, went for walks with schoolchildren and could do its own washing-up has been revealed.

Image courtesy Gloucestershire Live / SWNS

The ape - called John Daniel - played with children, ate roses from gardens and even enjoyed drinking tea and cider. Photographs of his Gloucestershire life - including being carried around by children in a wheelbarrow - have emerged in a new book. Villagers in Uley adopted the lowland gorilla after he was captured as a baby in Gabon when his parents were shot by French officers.Raised as a boy, John had a bedroom, was potty trained and even knew how to make the bed.

Image courtesy Gloucestershire Live / SWNS

John was later found for sale at the London department store Derry & Toms in 1918 and bought for £300 - the equivalent of £25,000 today - by Major Rupert Penny, who named the animal. Mjr Penny's sister, Alyce Cunningham, nurtured and brought up the gorilla at her country house in Uley and nicknamed him "Sultan". She raised him as a human boy in the village and John used to go for walks regularly with children of  Uley Junior School.

Uley Society archivist Margaret Groom has unearthed a collection of photographs of John, which have been published in her book about the village's history. It tells how the gorilla's adoptive owners were later tricked into selling him to a circus and he was moved to America, where he died.

The new pictures show the gorilla in his early days enjoying life in the small village.

Ms Groom, a grandmother of three, said: "Until recently we had people that remembered him walking around the village with the children. He used to go into gardens and eat the roses. The children used to push him around in a wheelbarrow. He knew which house was good for cider, and would often go to that house to draw a mug of cider. He was also fascinated by the village cobbler, and would watch him repairing shoes. He had his own bedroom, he could use the light switch and toilet, he made his own bed and helped with the washing up."

Miss Cunningham would take John to her London home where it would attend her VIP dinner parties, drinking cups of tea in the afternoon. But Miss Cunningham could no longer look after John when, after three years, he grew from a manageable 32lb infant to a 210lb gorilla. She sold the animal to an American in 1921 for a thousand guineas, believing that he would be sent to a home in Florida. But he was instead sent to a circus and was also displayed in the Ringling zoo of Madison Square Garden in New York.

However, his health deteriorated and it was believed the gorilla was pining for Miss Cunningham. An urgent message was sent to her from the zoo which read: "John Daniel pinning and grieving for you. Can you not come at once? Needless to say we will deem it a privilege to pay all your expense, Answer at once." Miss Cunningham set sail immediately, but John died of pneumonia before she arrived, aged four and a half years old. His body was stuffed and given to the American Museum of Natural History for preservation. It went on display in the New York museum in 1922, where it remains today.

- The Telegraph

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