Cameroon’s Mefou Primate Sanctuary – owned by non-profit primate conservation group Ape Action Africa (AAA) – is home to Bobo, a western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla, seriously). Although still widespread and numerous compared to other gorilla subspecies, they are still listed as critically endangered, with poaching, disease, and habitat destruction culling their numbers by 60 percent in the last quarter-century alone.
Bobo himself arrived at the sanctuary in 1996 after his parents were killed by poachers for meat: a sadly common tale. He is one of many primates kept under the protection of this animal sanctuary, and those that run the site have gotten to know them all fairly well.
That’s why it’s always a treat when one of them surprises the researchers and conservationists – this time featuring Bobo and a ludicrously tiny bushbaby. Although not the first time a larger primate has taken a liking to a smaller one, it’s hard to deny just how adorable this latest pairing is.
It cannot be overstated how small these nocturnal critters, better known by their genus name, Galago, are. Whether you’re talking about the two-bags-of-flour-heavy thick-tailed bushbaby, or the impossibly adorable, tin-of-tomato-soup-light lesser bushbaby, they aren’t exactly what you’d call sizeable.
That’s why, when a wild one snuck into Bobo’s enclosure and caught the gorilla’s eye, the juxtaposition proved to be fairly extreme. Bobo weighed 1,000 times more than his curious visitor, who was spotted by his caregivers during their routine morning checks a few weeks back.
Fortunately, this didn’t end in an improvised pancake: Bobo allowed the bushbaby to climb into his hands and around his body, while taking a few moments here and there to get a good close-up viewing of the tiny primate.
Ape Action Africa/Alex Benitez
In a Facebook post about the incident, the team note that they were “amazed to see him handling it with the utmost care – proving that gorillas really are the gentle giants of the rainforest.” In fact, when Bobo’s group-mates in the enclosure came in for a look themselves – including his “favorite female Avishag” – he kept them at a distance to make sure the bushbaby wasn’t disturbed in any way.
Per the Press Association, a spokesperson for AAA opined that the bushbaby “showed no fear of Bobo”.
At some point, they decided to part ways, and Bobo “walked purposefully” off on two legs to put the critter back into a tree, safe from any inadvertent or intentional harm. This was the first time that staff had seen a wild primate interacting with a rescued one at Mefou.
There’s a small chance the two friends could be reunited someday: The sanctuary explain that their ultimate goal is to release orphans like Bobo back into the wild. Sadly, at present, there is nowhere safe or suitable in which to keep them alive on their own.
Either way, this was clearly an act of empathetic, curiosity-driven intelligence. Gorillas are known for possessing very human-like cognitive abilities, and in fact Bobo’s moment in the spotlight won’t quite match that of the most famous western lowland gorilla to date: the late, great Koko.
She also was known for looking after a kitten, and appeared to mourn when she was told it had died by her carers. In addition, she was apparently able to understand thousands of words of spoken English, and could reply using sign language to a degree – all of which attests to these amazing animals' brainpower.
This all arguably makes it even more distressing that, largely thanks to our actions, this subspecies is being pushed toward extinction. Thankfully, sanctuaries like those at Mefou slow down what is otherwise a catastrophic decline.