Gorilla Goggles

Bokito, pictured above, is a gorilla at the Diergaarde Blijdorp zoo in the Netherlands. In 2004, he escaped from his habitat in the zoo (a feat whcih is not unique), and was returned without any further problems. The same, unfortunately, could not be said in 2007, when he attacked a zoo visitor. Bokito’s Wikipedia entry sums it up:

On May 18, 2007, Bokito jumped over the ditch that separated his Rotterdam enclosure from the public and violently attacked a woman, dragging her around for tens of metres and inflicting bone fractures as well as more than a hundred bite wounds. He subsequently entered the nearby restaurant, causing panic among the visitors. During this encounter, three more people were injured as a result of the panic. Bokito was eventually sedated with the help of a tranquilizer gun and placed back in his cage.

But the main victim here was no random zoo visitor. She had been visiting the zoo as often as four times a week, specifically to visit Bokito. And she’d look at him and smile and laugh. And that — that is where she went wrong.

Zoo staff advised that she (and others) not make direct eye contact with Bokito while smiling at him, as apes often misinterpret that friendliness as aggression. The victim nevertheless continued, believing that Bokito was laughing back at her and that the two shared some special bond. She was, of course, wrong, and Bokito viciously attacked her. Bokito’s strength became so well known in the Netherlands that the term “Bokitoproof,” meaning “durable enough to resist the action of an enraged gorilla” became commonplace in Dutch usage.

And of course, the zoo needed to make their facilities Bokitoproof, too. Given the ape’s 2004 escape — which involved scaling a three meter high wall — that was easier said that done. But a week later, the zoo came up with a simple, elegant, and somewhat creepy solution called BokitoKijkers, Dutch for “Bokito Viewers,” as seen below.

These “viewers” are paper visors with false eyes, looking off to the upper-left. There are pin holes in the viewers allowing the wearer to look straight ahead while avoiding eye contact with Bokito. Attack-defraying paper, of a story.

While it’s hard to say whether the BokitoKijkers have been effective, to date, Bokito has not attacked anyone else.

Bonus fact: On April 23, 2005, one of YouTube’s cofounders uploaded the website’s first video ever. It is titled “Me at the zoo” (San Diego, not Diergaarde Biljdorp), and can be seen here. It is 19 seconds long and there are elephants in the background — no gorillas or funny glasses, sorry.

From the ArchivesSeeing Red in the Hen House: Another animals-plus-glasses combination.

RelatedLight-defracting paper glasses — put them on, look at a light source, and everything comes out rainbow. The link goes to a three pack for about $1.50. Eight reviews, each of five stars.

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