Magnificent western lowland gorilla Mok is one of the most impressive specimens in Leeds City Museum’s Life on Earth gallery.
But the story of how the young primate came to be displayed in Leeds is actually quite the tragic tale.
Captured in central Africa, Mok was originally put in a cage in the lobby of Parisian hotel before he was bought by London Zoo and shipped to the capital in 1932.
Living there alongside a female gorilla called Moina, Mok was housed in a purpose-built gorilla enclosure from 1933 and the pair became minor celebrities, often featuring prominently in national newspapers.
However, zoo-keeping and knowledge of exotic animals was not what it is today and Mok, a natural herbivore, was fed a diet of steak and chicken.
Sadly, the diet dramatically shortened his life and aged just seven, Mok died of kidney disease at London Zoo on January 14 1958.
After his death, Moina became distracted and began to pick at sores on her feet, which then became infected, and she herself died a short time later.
Press were quick to seize on the story of Mok’s death and the resulting coverage caught the eye of The Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, which regularly purchased specimens from the zoo.
Mok’s body was taken to a taxidermist who prepared the mount which stands in Leeds today as well as his skeleton, which is also part of the collection held at Leeds Discovery Centre.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries, said: “After being on display in Leeds for most of the last 80 years, Mok is a real part of the museum’s history and so many people through the decades must have stopped and admired him.
“But not only is he a magnificent specimen of a now sadly endangered species, his story is also a reminder about how far we have come in our efforts to care for and preserve animals both in the wild and in captivity.”
Curator of natural sciences Rebecca Machin added: “Although Mok’s story is sad, his remains can now inspire people to find out more about gorillas, some of our closest living relatives.”