Charles and Annie Greer went ape, so to speak, over Hugo when they found him 25 years ago. They were on safari in French Equatorial Africa, and Hugo was an orphaned 7-month-old baby gorilla whose mother had been killed in the bush.
The Greers adopted Hugo, brought him home to Houston, Texas, and soon heard the patter of little feet—sometimes four of them—in their cozy brick house.
Nowadays Hugo moves like an earthquake. He has outgrown the cute stage and weighs 500 pounds. If he stood up straight, as parents are always telling their kids to do, he would be six feet tall.
For all his seeming maturity, Hugo demands as much care as an infant. The burden falls mostly upon Annie, 59, since Charles, 65, is a traveling entrepreneur (oil, bananas, etc.). Annie feeds Hugo twice a day and hoses down the concrete floor of his 15-by-20-foot cage which has windows opening onto the living and dining rooms. Hugo has two toys, a tire hung from a steel pipe and a link chain. At one time he had a rattle—a pipe with pebbles inside—but it had to be taken away when he began poking it at visitors. “Sometimes,” Annie confesses, “I get so mad at him I could kill him. I cuss him one minute and feel sorry for him the next.”
Hugo’s favorite food is spaghetti and meatballs—unlike wild gorillas, he is not a vegetarian. He also likes cheese, salami, rice with gravy, french fries and soft drinks. The Greers say they have spent $30,000 on Hugo, spoiling him so rotten he will not adapt to a zoo. He could live at least another decade.
Hugo obeys commands to open his mouth, clap his hands, and pat his head, but with advancing age he has become temperamental. “It’s easy enough to get in his cage,” says Charles, “but he won’t let you out again.” It took five hours for Greer to escape last time—12 years ago.
“Gorillas,” sighs Charles, “are a lot like people. They have good and bad days. But with Hugo, you can never be sure what kind of a day it is until it’s too late.”