Did love or fury spur Dutch gorilla's attack?

ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands Wed May 30, 2007 7:33am EDT

ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands (Reuters Life!) - Was it love that drove Bokito the gorilla to leap from his enclosure and seize a woman visiting the Rotterdam Zoo?

The 11-year-old silverback has become a national celebrity since he leaped a 4 meter (13 ft) moat surrounding his pen and ran amok in the zoo restaurant amid panicking visitors.

The 180 kg (397 lb) Bokito seriously injured a woman, who it later emerged has visited the ape almost every day since his arrival at the zoo a year and a half ago, a fact which has left the country guessing the motive behind his attack.

Some primatologists, biologists and philosophers, who have all featured heavily in the Dutch media, said the gorilla could be in love with the woman and frustrated by seeing her every day without being able to make her his own.

Women can easily develop an emotional tie to big apes as they are "the perfect macho" with their rippling muscles and masculine gait, some academics have suggested.

But the zoo's director has dismissed these romantic notions.

"He didn't fall in love with her because gorillas don't fall love. That is a ridiculous and inappropriate translation of human behavior to ape", zoo director Ton Dorresteijn told Reuters on Tuesday.

"But I would not rule out that he wanted to integrate her into his group. His movement was 100 percent directed at this lady."

Dutch Media widely reported that the woman misunderstood what she perceived as a smile from the gorilla. Experts suggest he was more likely to have been baring his teeth as a threat.

Dutch citizens lost sympathy for the woman after it emerged that she has visited the gorilla about four times a week and said that Bokito "remains her darling" despite suffering a broken arm and wrist and around 100 bites.

In a poll published some days after the accident, some 33 percent of those surveyed said the victim was responsible. About 25 percent blamed the zoo.

"Maybe it was the fault of the woman who stalked him", said zoo visitor Ronald De Graaff, one of a crowd of 200 gawping at the gorillas.

Dorresteijn didn't rule out that there was a special relationship between the ape and the woman as the gorilla was hand-reared in Berlin and has a strong bond with humans.

"She contacted him, he responded to her and she left him every time", says Dorresteijn.

It remains to be seen whether Bokito will become an international brand like the polar bear cub Knut in Berlin. Knut has a book deal, a web site and a television serial.

A website already offers a Bokito fashion line including t-shirts with a picture of a gorilla face next to the slogan "I'm sure I know this woman."

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