Mountain Gorilla : Article by Adrian Warren ....Page 2 of 6

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MOUNTAIN GORILLAS

by Adrian Warren

Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla g. beringei) : mother with baby in her arms
Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla g. beringei), Virunga Volcanoes, Rwanda

There is no specific breeding season and the gestation period lasts around nine months, so a first-time mother may only be nine or ten years old, though she may continue to have babies well into her thirties. There is a poor survival rate for first babies - it seems that mothers need to gain experience, not only to feed their offspring adequately but also to protect them from over zealous curiosity from other gorillas in the group. Newborn baby gorillas are totally dependant on their mothers for survival and if inexperienced she may allow other, boisterous, youngsters in the group to play with her infant with the risk of causing it unintentional, though perhaps fatal, injury. Normally, only one gorilla is born at a time, clinging tightly to its mother's body for the first few months of its life and, later, riding on her back. Although the baby will start to experiment with food that mother likes to eat when it is one year old it will continue to feed on mother's milk and will not be fully weaned until over three years of age.

A field biologist soon learns to recognise the gorillas individually. Their facial features and individual character are as distinctive as those of human beings: for quick visual reference, the creases on the nose (known as nose prints) are as individual as fingerprints. But after working with a group for a few days, the different personalities reveal themselves and the gorillas are recognised by other things: perhaps in the way they move; some are confident, some are shy; some are nervous, some are calm; some even seem to have a sense of humour. It is impossible to find tedium in gorilla research, even after weeks or months of daily observation, every gorilla experience is totally absorbing and offers something new.

George Schaller wrote: "Probably no animal has fired the imagination of man to the same extent as has the gorilla..." Before their scientific discovery, explorers and hunters, returning to Europe from Africa, told stories of attacks by huge and hairy "men of the woods", and "hellish creatures - half man, half beast", capable of tearing a man limb from limb and reputed to steal native women and carry them off. Some of these stories, at least, may have referred, fancifully to encounters with gorillas. It was fashionable in those days to embellish, exagerate and sensationalise stories from the remoter parts of the world, and only recently has the true nature of the gorilla emerged: like humans in intelligence, like humans in depth of feeling, and utterly unlike humans in their gentleness. The first specimen of a gorilla, a lowland gorilla, was described, in 1847, by Savage, a missionary in Africa, and Wyman, an American anatomist, as a kind of chimpanzee: Troglodytes gorilla. Just 4qover a decade later, in 1858, Geoffrey Saint-Hilaire established the genus Gorilla, and although at a generic level the taxonomy has remained stable, at the specific level controversy has dominated and agreement is not yet in sight.

Article Main Page
Moutain Gorilla Image Gallery
The Making of IMAX mountain gorilla
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