Department of Anthropology, Yale University
Thursday All day, Clinch Concourse
Accurately identifying skeletal markers of life history stressors can be difficult, as detailed information on any given individual is often lacking from museum records. Here, we describe the skeleton of a famous gorilla named Gargantua, formerly Buddy. Available records indicate that this lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) was collected in Africa as an infant, and suffered an acid attack to the face before being donated and cared for by a wealthy menagerie owner in Brooklyn, NY. On reaching adulthood, Gargantua was subsequently transferred to the Ringling Brother & Barnum and Bailey Circus, where he was a media star from 1938 until his death in 1949. Following a necropsy by primate anatomist Adolph H. Schulz, Gargantua’s skeleton was donated to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, where it was mounted for exhibit.
The Gargantua skeleton shows skeletal pathologies consistent with available life history data. The cranium and face show bilateral asymmetry and scarring associated with the acid incident, and craniometric data indicate that Gargantua’s skull development followed a different trajectory than wild gorillas. Postcranial metric data suggest a smaller body size relative to wild gorilla males. Skeletal evidence of severe dental disease, respiratory ailments, and postcranial arthritic changes are concordant with the recorded captive environment. By reviewing documents and historical material, we are able to provide a clearer picture of the gorilla who had captivated the American public, but whose life and death illustrate the importance of modern captive management and enrichment programs.
This work was support by the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and by the Yale University Department of Anthropology.