Mok's sad life

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.

Meet Mok: a very well travelled gorilla. Mok, which is short for 'Mo Koundie' meaning 'Chief', was born free in the former French Congo in Central Africa.  He was caught and taken to Paris, where he was looked after by Monsieur Capagorry, a French administrator, and his wife for two years. Monsieur Capagorry sold Mok and another young gorilla, Moina, to the Zoological Society of London. 

Mr Vevers, the superintendent of London Zoo, travelled to Bordeaux to meet Monsieur Capagorry and the gorillas and Mr Vevers then travelled back to London with them. Mok and Moina lived in the old lemur house until 1933, when a purpose-built gorilla house was completed.  They lived there until Mok's death in 1938. Mok and Moina were often featured in newspapers, and were celebrities of their day. 

However, though his life might sound like a whirlwind adventure, in fact it was a life of captivity.  Although Gorillas are vegetarians, at London Zoo, Mok and Moina were fed on a diet that included things like chicken, eggs and brandy, as well as lots of bananas and other fruit and vegetables.  It is likely that the people looking after Mok and Moina didn't realise that the meat, dairy and alcohol were not healthy for Gorillas to eat. 

Mok finally died of Bright’s disease, which is a kidney condition. This may well have been linked to his unsuitable diet.  His skin was stuffed by E Gerrard and Son, and his skeleton was articulated.  Both were bought for display in Leeds Museum.  As a result of his death, Moina became increasingly distracted, and picked at sores on her feet until they became infected, and she too died. 

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.

Curriculum Links:

KS2 Science - living things, humans and other animals
KS3 Biology - ecological relationships
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 try to ensure animals kept in captivity have better lives than they did in Mok's time.
  • 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.

Head of Mok the Gorilla
Mok the Gorilla
Drawing of Mok the Guerilla by Cecil Stuart Tresilian
Skeleton of Mok the Gorilla