Kesho and Alf hadn’t seen each other for three years. And in that time, Kesho had really grown up. Now 13 years old, he weighs almost 500 pounds and had been taken from a zoo in Ireland, where the two brothers had grown up together, to the London Zoo for breeding. That didn’t work out, so the decision was to bring the two brothers together at the Longleat Safari Park.
What were they both thinking when they were reunited after three years?
“We weren’t entirely sure that the brothers would even know each other,” Mark Tye, senior gorilla keeper at Longleat, told the Daily Mail. “But the moment they met you could just see the recognition in their eyes. … Had they been two strangers there would have been a lot of face to face confrontation and some fighting and screaming. But Kesho and Alf were happy to turn their backs on one another which is a sign of trust.
“There was a lot of rough and tumble, but not in an aggressive way. It’s quite unusual to see that sort of childlike behavior in a silverback.”
Dr. Charlotte Uhlenbroek, who has studied mountain gorillas in Rwanda, writesthat it’s obvious that gorillas share deep emotions with humans (as well as 98 percent of our DNA):
Kesho and Alf are said to be markedly different characters. Kesho is the dominant animal in his group of four, which is a sort of gentlemen’s club made up entirely of young males.
He’s a 13-year-old silverback lowland gorilla with a massive head and an impressive cape of grey hair across his back and shoulders that signifies senior status.
Alf, four years younger and half his brother’s weight, is more shy and cautious. He’s a ‘black back’ because he’s younger and hasn’t developed his big brother’s coloring. His keepers say he is a follower, not a leader.
The two gorillas are very different, just as human brothers often are, but they plainly appreciate each other’s qualities. It’s not just that they grew up as playmates — it’s an instinctive family bond that is crucial to survival. Knowing who your friends are could be the difference between life and death to gorillas in the wild.
Photos of the reunion have sparked the usual round of “emotion deniers” who doubt that nonhuman animals have feelings. But Dr. Uhlenbroek brushes that aside:
So we can’t say for certain that Kesho and Alf missed each other for three years with the same aching sense of loss that humans experience. But the real question is: why wouldn’t they? Indeed, how could relationships persist for 50 years if they didn’t?
It’s that rush of empathy that makes the photos of Kesho and Alf so touching. We are looking at some of our closest relatives: gorillas share 98 per cent of our DNA, our genetic coding. And it’s obvious that they share much more than that.
… Deep emotion is invisible, intangible . . . but whatever it is, our cousins have got it too.