From the Electronic Telegraph

Gunman's fight for life with zoo gorilla

Friday 26 February 1999

By Christopher Munnion in Johannesburg

THE man who shot and wounded Max, the South African gorilla who has become a legend, described to a court yesterday how he fought for his life with the animal after jumping into its pen at Johannesburg Zoo.

Isaac Mofokeng, who jumped into Max's enclosure while running away from police officers, said: "I thought my last day had come. The first thing the gorilla did was rip my jeans and bite me on the buttocks."

He told the Johannesburg magistrate: "He slammed me against the wall until I became semi-conscious. I thought it would be better to kill myself than be torn apart by the gorilla. At one stage, I put the gun to my own head and thought of pulling the trigger."

Instead, Mofokeng shot Max. He said: "It was not malicious. I was fighting for my life." Mofokeng has pleaded not guilty to robbery, rape, house-breaking, escaping from police custody and "malicious damage to property" - the charge relating to the shooting of Max.

Earlier, the police officers who had chased Mofokeng told how they had been attacked by Max as they tried to arrest the gunman. At one stage, the wounded and bleeding gorilla had a policeman under each arm.

Sgt Andries Rasimela said Max had bitten him and punched him. He saw his colleague, Constable Robert Shabalala being squeezed between the gorilla's legs.

Mofokeng said the incident arose from a "misunderstanding" when he went to a house to show the owner a gun he had found. He said: "They thought I was there to rob them so I ran into the zoo and jumped over this wall thinking I would be safe. I did not know it was the gorilla pen."

Max underwent surgery and recovered to be proclaimed a "national hero". Donations for his welfare came from all over the world.

The trial continues.

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