Mok the Gorilla

Mok's sad life

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

Meet Mok: a very well travelled gorilla. Born free in the French Congo in Central Africa, he was caught and taken to Paris, where he spent some time in the lobby of a hotel.  He then moved to London Zoo, where he lived from 1932 in a purpose built gorilla house, with his mate Moina, until his death in 1938. Mok and Moina were often featured in newspapers, and were celebrities of their day.

His body was stuffed by E Gerrard and Son, and bought by Leeds Museum. However, though his life might sound like a whirlwind adventure, in fact it was a life of captivity and unintentional neglect. At London Zoo, Mok was fed on steak, a strange diet for a vegetarian animal but it is likely that people didn't realise in those days. He finally died of liver disease. As a result of his death, Moina also became increasingly distracted, and picked at sores on her feet until they became infected, and she too died. This is a picture of Mok's skeleton.

The debate on whether to keep large mammals in captivity continues to this day. The gorilla house at London Zoo was built for Mok and Moina and is still in existence although not housing gorillas anymore.
Look at the links below to find out how much better Gorillas are understood and looked after today.

This drawing of Mok by Cecil Stuart Tresilian was drawn at London Zoo, while Mok was still alive.

Find out more about Mok, and how to use other objects as inspiration for stories, in our resource Objects and Stories

Curriculum Links:

KS2 Science - living things, humans and other animals
KS3 Biology - ecological relationships
KS3/4 Geography - hazards and risks
KS2 English - narrative texts

Discussion and activity ideas:
  • How do you think Mok felt during his journey? Write a story imagining you are the one looking after Mok on his travels.
  • Write about how you think Mok felt in the zoo?
  • What are the 'pros and cons' of keeping big mammals in zoos?
  • Find out what a carnivore is. Why do you think Mok's keepers thought he was one?
  • How do you think our attitudes to wildlife have changed since Mok's time ?
  • Research what is done now to ensure animals kept in captivity have good lives.
  • What famous modern naturalists alive today would probably have different views about Mok's care?
  • The map below shows where Mok came from in the Congo, in Africa. Use this map to track Mok's amazing journey from the French Congo, to Paris, to London, ending up in Leeds.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Leeds City Museum | 
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