Understanding Bokito, the gorilla that escaped and attacked a woman


By Otto Spijkers

Why did Bokito, a gorilla held captive in Blijdorp Zoo in Rotterdam, escape from his outdoor cage and attack a woman? That is the question that occupies the minds of most Dutch people (and some Australians) these days. Bokito seems to have had an unusual childhood in Berlin Zoo, Germany, where he also escaped, in 2004. But then he was young, and it all looked so innocent. Three years later: Bokito moved from Berlin to Rotterdam and grew up to be a huge gorilla. One woman came to visit Bokito very regularly, often more than once a week, and thus saw him grow up. Bokito and the woman seem to have had an unusually intense relationship. i1179516060.gifBokito is now back in his cage; he will remain indoors for the moment, until his outdoor cage is made ‘escape-proof’. But the discussion only started. Bokito is all over the news, and experts are trying to explain the gorilla’s behavior. Some possible explanations of Bokito’s escape and subsequent assault on this one particular woman (most of them are mentioned here): the woman was not submissive enough to him, the big male gorilla (Bokito seems to have established ‘special bonds’ with many female visitors of the zoo); Bokito was fed up with being treated as some kind of attraction, to be stared at and teased every day; Bokito spontaneously jumped out of his cage, but panicked as soon as he was ‘free’ and thus attacked the one person he recognized; Bokito wanted to make it very clear that he was the new dominant male of the Blijdorp gorilla family after another male gorilla left for Shanghai Zoo recently; 070323_knut_11_AFP.jpgand, finally, there’s Bokito’s unusual childhood: in Berlin Zoo, when he was still young and innocent, he would often be taken out of his cage to walk around the zoo, and he even had pizza every once in a while with the zookeepers, which made him get used to being amongst human beings? Knut, the cute polar bear, gets a similar treatment in Berlin Zoo these days. One may wonder what he will do once he becomes an adult – and not so cute – polar bear.  

The picture of Bokito and the ‘evolution image’ are taken from de Volkskrant.

5 thoughts on “Understanding Bokito, the gorilla that escaped and attacked a woman

  1. Here you can find an interesting article with the title “Apen zijn ook maar mensen” (Monkeys are only humans). I’m afraid it is in Dutch, but for those that master this beautiful language…

    – Otto

  2. Hello Nick,

    Thanks for the compliment. I would argue that a blog about international law and politics includes by definition international animal politics, feminism, cultural relativism, etc. Whenever a monkey escapes from the zoo, thereby challenging the very paradigm that defines animal-human relations, I consider this an act of rebellion that is fundamental to international politics and, in the long run, perhaps even international law. I wrote something about animal rights on our previous blog (see Who will fly the birds to freedom?), and of course we had the baby seal debate (see here and here). Bokito’s daring escape leads one to challenge ideas that are otherwise believed to be unchallengeable (such as putting animals in cages, and stare at them from behind a glass window).


  3. Fascinating stuff. Maybe we should start another blog about international animal politics, feminism, cultural relativism, etc. 😉

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