Western Lowland Gorillas
On 20 June 1865, the museum registered three Western Lowland Gorillas that had been collected by and purchased from M. du Chaillu’s expedition into Equatorial Western Africa.
Du Chaillu had ventured into Africa’s tropics in search of gorillas and had obtained a number of them. His specimens had been sent to London for preparation. From that collection, then museum Director Frederick McCoy obtained one adult male, one adult female and one unsexed young.
The museum’s original register entry states that these are ‘Savage’ gorillas; this does not reflect any aggressiveness of the species, rather it implies that the original material was first brought to our knowledge by the American Dr Savage and exhibited by him in 1847.
McCoy’s purchase of the gorillas was fortuitous, coming soon after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The common ancestry of apes and humans was hotly debated in response to his theory. Du Chaillu’s gorillas were a catalyst for this debate in Melbourne and were a great crowd pleaser. The gorillas remained on continuous exhibition for more than 100 years.
Today, gorillas are totally protected and are listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.