From Blog No. 19, `Mythical Man ` we may surmise a connection with their `creature`, the wa-at as a possible chimpanzee or gorilla. Tess, our volunteer, who is transcribing letters to and from the Powell Cotton family, has showed me notes dated 1927 and 1930 linking Fred Merfield, a hunter and dealer in specimens, and Cherry Kearton, a wildlife film maker. This shows intense interest in live gorilla imports to London, and mentions Alyce Cunningham, who was to meet the Major on the 7th January 1930, to talk about gorillas, before he left on his next trip in 1933.
Her brother, Rupert Penny, brought her a birthday present in 1917 of a baby Lowland gorilla, who became known as John Daniel. Rupert paid £300 for this animal, although the correspondence we hold mentions a figure of £15 - £25 as the going rate then for a young gorilla. She was to look after him for three years at her home in Gloucestershire where he became a local celebrity. However, once he was fully grown Alyce found him difficult to look after and she sold him to an American believing he would be well cared for. It is well known that young males, silver backs, are best kept within their own `family` group, and indeed there have been recent proposals to castrate young male gorillas in Europe. This is not the current policy in England, where the practice is to return animals to protected habitats where possible.
John Daniel was acquired by Barnum & Bailey`s circus and spent some time on display at a zoo in New York. When Alyce heard this, she set out to rescue him, but he contracted pneumonia and sadly died before she arrived. Fred Merfield attempted to bring a live gorilla to England, but this ended in failure. This was possibly due to shipping at the wrong time of the year, according to the Major and his advisors.
Percy`s and Fred Merfield`s interests in gorillas coincided with the making of the film `King Kong` in 1933, and also with work by Cherry Kearton who the Major met in London. In Kent today, there are some 50 gorillas many of which have been bred here. They are part of a worldwide conservation project and many are returned to managed habitats in Africa.