You see when I was growing up, our neighbor was a gorilla keeper at The Bronx Zoo. And every night Mrs. Gillespie would bring home Julia, a 27 pound lowland gorilla to bond as her surrogate mother. She explained that baby gorillas don’t survive without their mother’s constant body contact. And so we had a baby gorilla as our neighbor.
We could not tell anyone there was a gorilla living next door because they feared a kidnapping as they were very valuable. That was kind of a tough secret to keep as a kid. And I’ve never told anyone until today.
Weekends were special when Julia spent the day at home. We would go over and play with her in the back yard, not the front yard so she wouldn’t be seen. And for 27 pounds, she was amazingly strong. One time she pinched me and I was black and blue for a week or two but we made up and moved on. So since I knew Julia and Julia knew me I was asked to gorilla sit one night. She was about this size at the time, perhaps a little bit bigger.
I went with Mrs. Gillespie into the bedroom and put Julia to sleep in a pen that was an old style wooden baby crib with a plywood board fashioned on top to keep her in.
There I was gorilla sitting, reading the charts they kept about Julia at the kitchen table. The notes were incredibly detailed and there was an entry about every hour. Her mood, activities, what she ate, favorite snacks and how her stool came out. About an hour later I started to hear some whining. It started out soft then it got to be full-on jungle whining. And you’re smart enough to know what I did next. I went in the room to check on her.
I calmed her down and was real proud of myself. Then the whining started again. So I went into the kitchen to get what I read was her favorite snack, grapes. I opened the door and Julia went silent. I fed her grapes through the bars and we were having a special private moment together and the she went back to sleep.
As I was walking out of the room Julia started shaking the cage, pushing on the top and bending the plywood. Then a loud snap. The top flew off and Julia ran around the room on walls alone! I ran out of the room, slammed the door, ran out of the house, slammed the front door, ran into our house and slammed our front door. I called Mrs. Gillespie and told her Julia got out. And that’s my gorilla babysitting story.
I called the Bronx Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Society to get an update on Julia. A spokesman would not comment other than to say that “their facility is state-of-the-art and that no animals leave the zoo at any time.”