Tag Archives: gorilla

Bands of chimps attacked and killed gorillas. It’s the first time we’ve witnessed anything like this

It’s the first time this type of distressing behavior has been seen among great apes.

Two male chimps of the Rekambo community in Gabon surveying their territory. Credit: LCP, Lara M. Southern.

Both chimpanzees and gorillas are known to be capable of great violence. But generally, their violent behavior is directed towards members of their own species during internal feuds for territory, resources, and mating rights. This is why recent reports of two fatal fights between chimps and gorillas at Loango National Park in Gabon have had scientists concerned. It’s the first time an inter-great-ape killing has been documented.

“Our observations provide the first evidence that the presence of chimpanzees can have a lethal impact on gorillas. We now want to investigate the factors triggering these surprisingly aggressive interactions,” says Tobias Deschner, a primatologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

War of the apes

Researchers with the Loango Chimpanzee Project have been monitoring apes living in the park since 2005. The aim of this research project is to investigate tool use, hunting behavior, territoriality, communication, and diseases to gain a better understanding of the behavioral diversity and complexity in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes troglodytes).

Between 2014 and 2018, the researchers observed nine episodes in which chimps and gorillas interacted. That's nothing out of the ordinary as these types of encounters are quite common in eastern and central Africa.

Up until recently, all chimp-gorilla encounters observed by researchers were peaceful and sometimes even playful. Imagine their surprise when, in 2019, they witnessed not one but two violent clashes between these apes, each leading to deaths.

In both instances, the male chimps ganged up on gorillas at the outer edge of the chimps' territory. Although gorillas are enormously stronger than chimps, they were heavily outnumbered in both instances. Researchers happened to be only 30 meters (100 ft) away when the violence erupted, which made these episodes even more harrowing.

"At first, we only noticed screams of chimpanzees and thought we were observing a typical encounter between individuals of neighboring chimpanzee communities. But then, we heard chest beats, a display characteristic for gorillas, and realized that the chimpanzees had encountered a group of five gorillas," said Lara M. Southern, Ph.D. student and first author of the study, recalling one of the lethal clashes from 2019.

Interspecies battles

The fights lasted between 50 and 80 minutes. The chimps formed coalitions of more than two dozen members and attacked two families of gorillas. Although two silverbacks (the leaders of the group) and the females resisted and fought back, two gorilla infants were separated from their mothers during the chaos and were killed. Several chimps were injured in battle, including a severe injury incurred by an adolescent female, but there was no fatality on their side.

The aggressive chimps acted in coordination, working together to isolate the weakest members of the gorilla groups. This is how they ultimately were able to separate the baby gorillas from their mothers.

These concerning events are clearly atypical and may be the result of dwindling shared resources. Fruit availability has been relatively low in tropical forests in Gabon in recent years, which may be due to climate change. If this turns out to be indeed the case, then we can add inter-ape warfare to the ignoble list of environmental damage caused by human activity.

"We are only at the beginning to understand the effects of competition on interactions between the two great ape species in Loango," says Simone Pika. "Our study shows that there is still a lot to explore and discover about our closest living relatives, and that Loango National Park with its unique mosaic habitat is a unique place to do so."

The distressing clashes between the apes were described in a study that appeared this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

Why do gorillas beat their chest? New study shows they don’t ‘bluff’

A silverback beating its chest. Credit: Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

The sight of a gorilla beating its chest is one of the most iconic in the animal kingdom. There’s been a ton of speculation as to why these great apes engage in this behavior. Does it intimidate rivals or attract potential mates? Surprisingly, there’s been little formal evidence to confirm these hypotheses — until now.

Primatologists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany spent more than 3,000 hours observing mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Their observations, which were reported in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that the frequency of the chest beats mirror the body size of the chest beater. Among gorillas, body size is an indicator of dominance and reproductive success, so the chest-beating can be seen as an ‘honest signal’ of these characteristics. It tells potential rivals “stay away!” and would-be mates “I’m your man!”.

One of Africa’s most emblematic sounds

Forget about King Kong for a second. Everything you know about gorillas is probably wrong anyway. When gorillas are about to beat their chest, they’ll typically stand upright and rapidly beat their chest. They won’t use their fists like you see in the movies but rather rapidly beat their chests with cupped hands in rapid succession.

The rapid thumbs can be heard over one kilometer away, although the researchers recorded these frequencies from much closer. They recorded the audio of over 500 chest beats from 25 different males between 2014 and 2016. They also photographed each male, so they could perform body measurements. Recording chest beats that can last just a few seconds proved challenging, as well as staying clear of these powerful animals that can easily reach 500 pounds.

When the researchers compared the recordings to the apes’ sizes, they found that the biggest males produced sounds with lower frequencies. This is perhaps due to the fact that larger individuals also possess larger air sacs near their larynx. Similar to an alligator’s rumble or a bison’s bellow, these low-frequency sounds could thus describe a male’s size to others without having to be close enough to convey this information visually.

“It is great that we have been able to show that body size is encoded in these spectacular displays,” says Edward Wright, the first author of the study from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Previous research established that gorilla size is closely associated with social dominance and reproductive success. As such, a rival male hearing the chest beats can assess the competitive ability of the chest beater. Although male gorillas can be highly aggressive, physical confrontations between males are rare. These chest beats may be one of many ways that dominant male gorillas employ to keep contenders in line.

Although each male beat their chest an average of just 1.6 times every 10 hours, bigger, more dominant males struck their chest more often and for longer.

Credit:  Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

But it’s not just other males that should take notice of a proper chest beat. Females also have plenty of good reasons to listen to these displays, which could guide them towards the most appealing potential mate. Although this particular study hasn’t studied chest-beating as a courting display, scientists know from previous observations of silverback gorillas that males beat their chests most often when females are entering estrus, the phase when the female is sexually receptive (“in heat”).

Interestingly enough, the observations also revealed a great deal of variation among males in terms of the number of beats, as well as their duration.

“This hints at the possibility that chest beats may have individual signatures, but further study is needed to test this,” says Wright.

Gorillas and humans treat their territory the same way, study finds

Gorillas seem to be very territorial, a new study shows, but they seem to understand ‘ownership’ similarly to humans.

Image credits Christine Sponchia.

The study is the first one to demonstrate that gorillas are territorial in nature, unlike previous assumptions. At the same time, the findings suggest that these primates can recognise “ownership” of specific regions in a very human-like manner, and will attempt to avoid contact with other groups while travelling close to the centre of neighbouring ranges in order to avoid conflict.

Which seems like the polite thing to do!

My turf, your turf

“Gorillas don’t impose hard boundaries like chimpanzees. Instead, gorilla groups may have regions of priority or even exclusive use close to the centre of their home range, which could feasibly be defended by physical aggression,” says lead author Dr. Robin Morrison, who carried out the study during her PhD at the University of Cambridge

“Our findings indicate that there is an understanding among gorillas of ‘ownership’ of areas and the location of neighbouring groups restricts their movement.”

Because their home ranges often overlap, and because they’re quite peaceful to other gorilla groups, gorillas have long been assumed to be non-territorial. This would make them markedly different from chimpanzees, who have no qualms about using extreme violence to protect their home turf.

The new study, however, suggests that gorillas are, in fact, territorial animals — but they also display quite nuanced behavior around the issue. The study focused on monitoring the movements of the western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in the Republic of Congo. These animals are notoriously difficult to track, so the team placed video cameras at 36 feeding “hotspots” across a 60-square-km area of the park to help them monitor eight different groups of gorillas.

The team reports that the movements of each group are strongly influenced by the location of their neighbours, being less likely to feed at a site visited by another group earlier that day. They would also try to steer clear of the centre of their neighbours’ home range.

“At the same time groups can overlap and even peacefully co-exist in other regions of their ranges. The flexible system of defending and sharing space implies the presence of a complex social structure in gorillas,” explains Dr Morrison.

“Almost all comparative research into human evolution compares us to chimpanzees, with the extreme territorial violence observed in chimpanzees used as evidence that their behaviour provides an evolutionary basis for warfare among humans,” says co-author Dr Jacob Dunn from the Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

Dr. Dunn adds that the findings showcases our similarities with the wider primate family, not just with chimpanzees. Observing the way gorillas interact over territory — setting up small, central areas of dominance and wider liminal areas of tolerance of other groups — could help us better understand early human populations. Just like us, he explains, gorillas have the capacity to both violently defend a specific territory and to establish between-group ties that lead to wider social cooperation.

The paper “Western gorilla space use suggests territoriality” has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Gorillas have ‘old friends’ and other elements of complex societies

Gorillas have complex relationships and social tiers, a new study reports. The system bears striking similarities to human society.

Gorillas resemble us in more than one way.

The way human society is arranged is pretty neat: it starts with a nuclear group of our closest family and friends, which is nested in increasingly larger units. We don’t exactly know when and how humans transitioned from small and autonomous groups to increasingly larger and tiered social systems, but it is a key part of what enabled us to thrive as a species.

But this system might not be unique to us among primates: a new study also reports that gorillas share a similar system.

Gorillas are not easy to study. Not only do they live in inaccessible areas, but they also tend to avoid humans without previous habituation. This study used over six years of data from two research sites in the Republic of Congo, where scientists documented the social exchanges of hundreds of western lowland gorillas.

“Studying the social lives of gorillas can be tricky,” said lead author Dr Robin Morrison, from the Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge. “Gorillas spend most of their time in dense forest, and it can take years for them to habituate to humans.”

“Where forests open up into swampy clearings, gorillas gather to feed on the aquatic vegetation. Research teams set up monitoring platforms by these clearings and record the lives of gorillas from dawn to dusk over many years.”

Gorillas live in family groups, but these groups are very different from what we humans have. Typically, a group consists of a dominant male, a few females, and offspring. Meanwhile, the other males live as solitary “bachelors”. But there’s more to the story than that.

After the immediate family, there’s an extended group with which gorillas interact regularly — this group features 13 gorillas on average. Beyond this, there’s a further tier, which averages 39 gorillas and also features regular (though rarer) interactions. There’s also a different type of group formed by male gorillas who are old enough to leave their group but not old enough to fully care for themselves. They form an all-male group to help them cope.

Does all this sound familiar? That’s because it’s a lot like what we humans do.

“If we think of these associations in a human-centric way, the time spent in each other’s company might be analogous to an old friendship,” she said.

The similarities run even deeper. Not only did the team find permanent relationships, they also found periodic interactions, similar to annual gatherings or festivals. For gorillas, these seem to be based around fruiting events (although they are a bit too infrequent to draw definite conclusions from them).

This could also offer new insight regarding the evolution of this type of behavior. Humans (and primates, for that matter) are not the only ones to employ this type of hierarchy.  A small number of mammal species have been found to have similar structures, and these are typically the species relying on “idiosyncratic” food sources — such as elephants looking for irregular fruitings or dolphins hunting for mercurial fish schools. Furthermore, all of them have well-developed spatial memory centers, much like humans do.

However, our closest relatives, chimpanzees, have a very different social structure: they live in small territorial groups with fluctuating and aggressive alliances. The findings suggest that either the behavior evolved independently in humans and gorillas or, more likely, it stretches down to the common ancestors of humans and gorillas

The findings suggest that the origins of our own social systems stretch back to the common ancestor of humans and gorillas, rather than arising from the “social brain” of hominins after diverging from other primates, say researchers.

“While primate societies vary a lot between species, we can now see an underlying structure in gorillas that was likely present before our species diverged, one that fits surprisingly well as a model for human social evolution.”

“Our findings provide yet more evidence that these endangered animals are deeply intelligent and sophisticated, and that we humans are perhaps not quite as special as we might like to think,” concludes Morrison.

The study “Hierarchical social modularity in gorillas” was published in Proceedings of Royal Society B.

Rwema and Dukore dismantle snares laid by poachers. Credit: DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND

Young gorillas learn to dismantle poachers’ traps

In  Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park poachers set thousands of snares to trap wildlife for meat. Inadvertently mountain gorillas — listed as critically endangered — get caught in the traps, and the young often die due to wounds or starvation. These sort of scenes are commonly witnessed by trackers working in the area to dismantle the snares, an uphill battle most of the time. What was startling though was a display of ingeniousness few cared to think was possible. Days after a young mountain gorilla was killed by a trap, trackers saw how a pair of four-year old gorillas worked together in coordination to dismantle a trap from the same area.

“This is absolutely the first time that we’ve seen juveniles doing that … I don’t know of any other reports in the world of juveniles destroying snares,” said Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund‘s Karisoke Research Center, located in the reserve where the event took place.

 Rwema and Dukore  dismantle snares laid by poachers. Credit:  DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND

Rwema and Dukore dismantle snares laid by poachers. Credit: DIAN FOSSEY GORILLA FUND

Thousands of snares litter Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The traps are intended for antelope and other species. Gorillas aren’t the target, but get trapped also. Adults most of the time can spring themselves loose, but the young which are too weak often get killed.

The makeshift traps are are made by tying a noose to a branch or a bamboo stalk. The rope is kept tense by bending the branch, while a rock or stick is used to keep the trap in balance. Vegetation is added for camouflage. When an animal budgets the trigger (rock or stick), the trap is triggered: the branch springs back closing the noose around the pray. Lighter animals may actually be hoisted into the air.

Trackers from the  Karisoke center scour the national park in search for the traps. One Tuesday, John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to dismantle the snare, but was greeted by an aggressive silverback adult which the trackers knew as Vubu. Vubu grunted in warning so the trackers kept away. Moments later, two young gorillas Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female, ran towards the trap, frightening Ndayambaje. The two youngsters knew what they were doing, though. Swiftly and coordinated, the two gorillas dismantled the trap: Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.

Then, the two, joined by a third teenager called Tetero, proceeded to dismantle another trap — one Ndayambaje himself had missed.

The process was swift and coordinated, which lends the trackers to believe the gorillas proceeded with intent and knew the outcome. “They were very confident,” Vecellio said. “They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left.”

The care takers and researchers believe the gorillas may have seen some human trackers dismantle snares before and took a hint. The trackers don’t want to school other gorillas, however. “No we can’t teach them,” Vecellio told National Geographic. “We try as much as we can to not interfere with the gorillas. We don’t want to affect their natural behavior.”

It’s still amazing how these primates felt the danger these snares represented, learn to spot, then dismantle them. “Chimpanzees are always quoted as being the tool users, but I think, when the situation provides itself, gorillas are quite ingenious,” said Veterinarian Mike Cranfield, executive director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

shabani gorill

Japanese women are going bananas after this ridiculously handsome gorilla

shabani gorill

In the last couple of months, Japanese women flocked in unusual numbers to the Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Japan to see the main attraction in the flesh: a western lowland gorilla named Shabani. Apparently, the young Japanese women are going crazy after the gorilla’s alleged good looks.

On social media, Shabani is a star, often called an ikemen (pronounced “ee-kay” meaning “cool” and the English “man”), which is slang for “handsome guy”.

It all started back in March when a flood of twitter and instagram posts launched Shabani to nation-wide fame, as Japanese females – hopefully not entirely serious – complemented the gorilla for his dreamy sensitive eyes and rough good looks.


Photos of Shabani looking after a young has also earned him status as ikumen (“iku” meaning “raising children”). Basically, if you’re both ikemen and ikumen you’re a definite keeper in Japan.

He was born in the Netherlands 18 years ago and came to the Higashiyama Zoo in Nagoya, Aichi prefecture, in 2007 as a gift. In gorilla years, Shabani is in his mid to late thirties, or in the prime of his strength.

On social media, the Japanese women use the same words of admiration that popup when speaking of the likes of George Clooney or Hugh Jackman or Japan’s own Ken Watanabe: “shibui” (meaning “bitter”) and “nihiru” (derived from the English “nihilistic”) used to describe “dark and handsome” men.

‘I went to Higashiyama Zoo. This hot Shabani ikemen was certainly handsome,’ one woman wrote.


I honestly hope the Japanese women don’t actually think of Shabani in the same way they’d do of a crush on a human male. I mean, that wouldn’t actually surprise men considering all the weird stuff going on there. But seriously, Shabani really is photogenic and this kind of publicity isn’t bad at all.

When Taronga Zoo senior zookeeper Allan Schmidt was asked if he surprised by Shabani’s popularity he said: ‘No, because the Japanese are crazy… The Japanese love their fads.’

He added: ‘I would say most people would consider him fairly dashing.’


The Western lowland gorilla is critically endangered by poaching, habitat destruction, and disease. At the same time, it’s the most numerous and widespread of all gorilla subspecies. Even if all of the threats to western lowland gorillas were removed, scientists calculate that the population would require some 75 years to recover, according to the WWF.

Ebola has killed off a third of the world’s gorillas and chimpanzees

The great apes are suffering greatly from Ebola too – gorillas and chimps are facing the greatest threat ever, after Ebola has wiped out a third of the populations since the 1990s.

Ebola and great apes

Chimps and gorillas are also threatened by Ebola. Image via National Geographic Expeditions.

It’s easy to forget just how similar we are to apes and chimps. We share 94% of our DNA with chimps, and these two species are the closest living evolutionary relatives to humans, sharing a common ancestor with humans about four to six million years ago. Considering how similar we are, it should be no surprise that Ebola affects them.

In fact, the disease is much more dangerous for them than it is for us, with mortality rates of 95% for gorillas and 77% for chimpanzees, compared to about 50% in humans. The Ebola outbreaks are infrequent, but when they do strike, the effects are devastating. A study from 1994 found that a single Ebola outbreak wiped 25% of the chimps in a small population. But things got a lot worse in 1995, when 90% of gorillas in a national park in Gabon were killed. The problems continued throughout the 2000s, and in 2002-2003 another outbreak killed 5,000 gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

When you consider that there are under 100,000 gorillas in the wild, that’s a pretty big deal; and Ebola shows no signs of stopping. When you also consider that great ape populations are threatened by poaching and habitat destruction, the picture becomes much bleaker. The lack of habitat means that more individuals will come into contact with each other and are therefore much more likely of transmitting the disease.

Back in 2003 an article on the decline of great apes, written by a team led by primatologist Peter Walsh, predicted that:

Without aggressive investments in law enforcement, protected area management and Ebola prevention, the next decade will see our closest relatives pushed to the brink of extinction.

So far, he seemed to have been right.

An Ebola vaccine exists for great apes but…

Image via Babies Wild Animals.

Here’s where things get even more complicated. A vaccine for Ebola already exists for chimps and gorillas… but we can’t implement it, because testing on chimps is illegal. Across the European Union, where the vaccine was developed, it’s illegal to test drugs on chimps, even if the end result would greatly help them… so one can only wonder whether an exception should be made in this case. Talk about irony.

The US is the only developed country where testing on chimps is still allowed, which is ironic in its own way, but that’s a different story. But even the US is starting to shut down its chimp labs,

In the long term, conservation efforts aimed at restoring forest habitat could also help curb the spread of the virus, but a vaccine could work wonders here. Hopefully, a satisfying solution will be found, helping and protecting great ape populations from the threat of Ebola.



Koko’s compassion might show to the world that gorillas communicate

Just a while ago, I told you how researchers translated the chimpanzee gesture language. It was a real breakthrough, since the work proved chimps are the first animals that we know of  that intentionally communicate through gestures inside their own society, apart from humans. There are other animals, however, that can be taught to emulate human language and directly communicate with us. The case of Koko the gorilla is perhaps the most famous and, at the same time, heartbreaking evidence of this idea.

Koko is a 38-year-old lowland Gorilla who not only learned to speak sign language as a baby but who has grown a love for kittens whom she treats like her own children. Koko could understand 1000 signs on the the American Sign Language system and over 2000 words of spoken English. The gorilla is deeply compassionate towards her feline friends, and could be seen often playing with her kitten friends or teaching them how to eat – she would pretend to bite, then would offer the morsel to the kittens.

One unfortunate day, one of Koko’s pet kitten escaped from the gorilla’s cage and was hit a car. Dr. Penny Patterson, her teacher and caretaker, informed her verbally and through sign language. Koko’s reaction follows.





Here’s the complete video, too.

So, does this mean that Koko understands human language? There’s an immense amount of debate surrounding Koko and Dr. Patterson. A lot of scientists believe Dr. Patterson has gravely overestimated Koko’s ability to comprehend human language, since there has yet to be one definite proof. It is generally accepted that she understands words but it is grammar she lacks. And grammar is the most important part of actually communicating. She can sign several words and such but she doesn’t make them consistent and can’t actually form sentences. It is because of this most people assert Koko doesn’t in fact communicate. You can learn more and read up on opinions that both support and criticize claims of Koko’s ability to communicate at the Wikipedia article.

If in fact Koko can communicate, how will the world react when it finds out what was always classed colloquially as a ‘dumb animal’ is capable of feelings, emotions, thoughts and form opinions expressing these? A more important question that might need addressing is whether we actually need any proof whatsoever to treat any living being with the respect we’d show to our fellow homo sapiens.


Gorilla mother uses makeshift ladder to help her young climb an obstacle [PHOTO]

While chimpanzees, which are our closest relatives sharing 98% of our genetic blueprint, are notorious for their widespread tool use, the same can’t be said about gorillas. The great apes have only been caught twice by researchers engaged in tool use. One used a stick to explore the depth of a muddy river and another turned a tree trunk to use it as a bridge. Finally we’ve got a third documented instance of gorilla tool use, and it’s most touching one too.


(c) Science Mag

Deep in the Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda), an adult female was observed using a bamboo culm as a ladder for her offspring who couldn’t pass an obstacle otherwise. At first glace, the behavior might seem unintentional, however the researchers surprised the whole moment and saw that the mother reacted and came to aid with the makeshift ladder only after the offspring cried for help.  When the infant gorilla grabbed the lowered pole, the mother then grasped it more firmly, which allowed the infant to scurry up to join her. Beautiful!

The findings were reported in the journal Behavioural Processes

[NOW READ] Gorillas: more similar to humans than previously thought

Infographic phone recycling

Can phone recycling help save the Eastern African Gorilla?

Gorilla congo coltan

Image source zoo.org.au

It is common that most of our gadgets contain a substance by the name of Coltan, particularly our mobile phones. This mineral is widely mined in the forests of central Africa, such as the Congo. This business has erupted over the last decade and demand and prices have never been higher, unfortunately there have been some severe knock on effects that have resulted in huge proportions of the forest being erased. Many animals that have this area as their natural habitat have been slaughtered, the Eastern African Gorilla being one of them. The shocking truth is, the illegal sale of their ape meat provides additional income for the miners to profit further from the destruction of the forestry, landscape and wildlife who made it their home.

The out of control volume of the illegal miners that have migrated to Africa to mine Coltan is now in the 10,000+. These volumes can easy illustrate the effects to the landscape and the depletion of Gorilla populations. This is a vicious loop as the demand for mobile phones and other devices increases, so does the price of Coltan and the desire for illegal miners to migrate into the territory in search of work.

“Most people are unaware of the connection between the components that make up their phones and the direct impact of the health and survival of the wildlife contained in the mined areas” said Ashley Turner, owner of a phone recycling business, comparemymobile.com.

Many phone recycling companies, environmental groups and even Zoos have made a conscious effort to launch phone recycling campaigns to raise awareness and reduce the demand for Coltan. There are now 1.4 phones to every 1 person on the planet, this is caused by the vast lack of recycling and re-purposing of the devices.

Infographic phone recycling

Click for zoom

The facts:

  • Europe has in excess of 160 Million unused phones
  • The US has 130 Million unused devices
  • In the UK there is around 40 Million mobile phones that lay dormant
  • The average person changes their phone every 12-18 months

Tips how you can help:

  1. Reuse: Pass on old devices to a friend or family member
  2. Recycle: Find an in store or online service to recycle your device

The key message is to not just bin or store old devices. What ideas do you have to reduce the impact of Coltan mining? Is there a local Zoo or charity you think might be interested? Please share your thoughts below and start a discussion…

This was an article authored by Coel Drysdale.

Most endangered gorilla species caught for the first time on film

The Cross River gorilla is a critically endangered gorilla species, native to the border region of Nigeria-Cameroon. Today, only about 250 to 300 individuals are alive, due to habitat loss and poaching, making it the rarest of all four gorilla species. It’s so rare and elusive, that no one has ever been able to record a Cross River gorilla, and were it not for a few photos, the outside world would’ve had no idea of their existence. Camera traps displaces around Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary, however, have offered us a true gem – live footage of not one, but eight Cross River gorillas.

The video is truly extraordinary, and in just one minute of released footage, one can see 3% of the species walking casually through the reservation. One of the gorillas, at some point, can be seen rushing through in front of the camera, while beating his chest, offering an unique moment. On the other side of the scale, one of the pack’s gorillas is disturbingly missing an arm, most likely caused by a snare left by poachers.

“Spectacular footage such as this, which we’ve never had before for Cross River gorillas, is absolutely vital to inspire local people, the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, and the global community to care about and to save this unique subspecies,” James Deutsch, executive director for WCS’s Africa Program, said in a prepared release. “Continued research of this kind will help fine-tune management plans to protect this rarest of apes.”

Scientists claim that the whole Cross River gorilla population is dispersed around a mountainous strip, 12,000 km long. It’s this extremely low density that makes them so hard to spot – maybe, ultimately, this is what allowed them to survive in the first place.

“Cross River gorillas occur in very low densities across their entire range, so the appearance of a possible snare injury is a reminder that continued law enforcement efforts are needed to prevent further injuries to gorillas in the sanctuary,” said Liz Macfie, gorilla coordinator for WCS’s Species Program.

A western lowland gorilla goes eye-to-eye with the camera. (c) National Geographic

Gorillas are more related to humans than previously thought, complete genome sequence shows

A western lowland gorilla goes eye-to-eye with the camera. (c) National Geographic

A western lowland gorilla goes eye-to-eye with the camera. (c) National Geographic

Researchers have completed the great apes family’s genetic library after they sequenced the genes of a western lowland gorilla, joining the already-sequenced genomes of humans, chimpanzees and orangutans. Scientists found that gorillas, which share 98% of their genes with humans, are a lot more related to humans than previously thought, as well as surprising genetic differences which went unnoticed until recently.

“Previously, people had some sort of picture based on … probably one percent of the whole [gorilla] genome. So we now have a complete picture,” said study co-author Richard Durbin, a geneticist with the U.K.’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

“Based on the comparisons between them, it helps us explore the evolutionary origins of humans and where we separated from other great ape species in Africa between six and ten million years ago,” Durbin said.

The first step was taken in 2008, when the researchers sampled DNA from Kamilah, a 30-year old female western lowland gorilla, who was born in captivity and now lives at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Four years later, the researchers presented the complete genome, as seen published in this Wednesday edition of the journal Nature.

Gorillas – our close cousins

Their results show gorillas are are closer to humans than some might have thought. All of the members of the hominids family are considered to have descended from a common ancestor, some 10 million years ago. Around that time, human-chimp line split from the gorilla line, despite this however the team detected groups of gorilla genes that were surprisingly similar to human genes.

“Although [70 percent] of the human genome is indeed closer to chimpanzees, on average, a sizable minority of 15 percent is in fact closer to gorillas, and another 15 percent is where chimpanzees and gorillas are closest,” said geneticist Aylwyn Scally, a study co-author also at the Wellcome Trust.

The new data shows that humans and gorillas are 98% genetically identical – most of our genes are very similar, or even identical to, the gorilla version of the same gene. However, there are few important differences which have been observed.

Insightful genetic differences

Some illuminating genetic differences have been found by the researchers. For instance, certain genes involved in sperm formation have become inactive or have been reduced in the gorilla genome compared with the human genome. This trait has been probably developed by humans in consequence of severe mating competition. Gorilla packs however most often include only one male and several females.

A common sight is that of gorillas walking with the help of their arms, basically stepping on their fists. The researchers discovered gorillas possess a gene that helps the animal’s skin grow a tough layer of keratin, a protein found in hair and nails. This genes, the scientists suggest, lead to the development of tough knuckles.

What’s maybe the most interesting and valuable piece of information discovered thus far by the researchers is that of certain genes shared by gorillas and humans that cause disease in our species, but not in our ape cousins. Some variants are linked to dementia and heart failure in humans, and are shared by both humans and gorillas, however the latter seem to be unaffected by the conditions. Future research sparked by this find might show promising medical applications.

“If we could understand more about why those variants are so harmful in humans but not in gorillas, that would have important useful medical implications,” Tyler-Smith said.

Nyamuragira eruption Congo

Africa’s most active volcano erupts in Congo [VIDEO]

Spectacular range smoke, ash and lava shot up in to the night sky last night from Africa’s most active volcano, located in  the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. Congo’s Centre for Research and Natural Sciences claimed in a recent statement that local residents, as well as the precious endangered mountain gorillas living in the park, are not threatened by the eruption.

Nyamuragira, which erupts about every two years, sits northwest of another active volcano in the park. During the past 100 years alone, Nyamuragira volcano has erupted more than 40 times, however during all this time few fatalities have been registered.

“A fountain of lava, smoke and ash came out of a fissure on the side” of a flat area east of the volcano, said CRNS researcher Dieudonne Wafula.

Ash could be carried some distance by the wind, potentially polluting water and burning crops, he warned.