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Why We Appreciate Gorillas

Amazingly enough many of the great animals of Africa were not fully known or scientifically documented until the early 1900’s. At that time in man’s evolution of zoological knowledge Africa was shrouded in mystery and unfounded rumor. In many ways these conditions still exist in terms of how the developed World views Africa. We are fascinated with Africa’s primate populations for good reason. The great apes like the Silverback gorillas were almost completed decimated but have made a remarkable comeback in terms of protected habitats and expanded populations. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated primatologists and engaged African Governments, we now know more about these primates and the environments they inhabit. The Silverbacks have survived in mountain habitats which are now protected parks. These parks are located in the Countries of Uganda and Rwanda. Both the Governments of these Nations are committed to ensuring the survival of these creatures and have committed significant resources and funding to support these protected habitats. This conservation goes beyond commercial tourism and is more of an indigenous effort to protect a very special gift of nature for the enjoyment of the world. Cover photo by Pierre Lescot.

Human Gorilla Fascination

Our fascination with the gorilla is obviously pegged to the extraordinarily similar genetic code we share with this animal. Some of the social habits of the gorilla are similar to human societal structures with respect to family and kinship. The strong social bonds exhibited by these intelligent beasts cannot be ignored. They form, nurture and protect their families similar to humans. Gorillas are herbivores unlike their carnivorous human counterpart. They feed on the many variety of leafy plants and bamboo. When one encounters a gorilla or gorilla family in the wild it is a profound experience. Gazing on these magnificent creatures sparks a primal recognition as you fix your gaze on the gorilla and the gorilla stares back at you. For the human there is an immediate perception of just how human-like the physical traits of the gorilla are. The face, the eye contact and the hands are especially telling. The human eyes feature a white sclera and is horizontally elongated in shape. The gorilla’s sclera tends to be darkened with a more rounded profile. Not many people get to experience these animals in their rain forest or low land habitats. Unfortunately, the only other way to view a live gorilla is in a zoo. If the gorilla and other primates really are similar to humans, one can only conclude that zoos are a horrible fate for these majestic animals. No less so for caged dolphins and killer whales trapped in aquariums. The people that plan and execute the arduous journey to Africa to observe the gorillas in the rain forest tend to be folk that are very much conscious of their exquisite privilege in seeing the real thing. These are not people that will spend time in the municipal zoo. Their sensibilities to the animal world will not allow it.

Photo by Tobias Renbein

The Gorilla’s Natural Enemy

Back when theories and emerging philosophical thought linking the genesis of our species to anything other than the Devine, scholars, scientist and free-thinkers kept their collective heads low and zig-zagged. Blasphemous ideas could leave you headless, or even boiled alive in hot oil. Kings assumed Devine rights and powers and a sycophant clergy could be relied on to stifle any trends that might be considered heretical and threatening to the Monarchy and the religious World Order. Things have improved a bit since then, but our human species appears to be hell-bent on destroying our wonderful Spaceship Earth. Though it is used as an insulting racial slur, being called a monkey or a gorilla is not so bad. We might even be able to forgive bigoted cretins for the comparison. After all, primates and wild animals pretty much stick to their inherited natures which, when left in balance, is predictable within the schemes and rhythm of nature. Man on the other hand is clever when compared to a mere primate, but it can be argued that we humans fall short when it comes to the schemes and rhythm of nature. Without delving into our discordant human tendencies, we should be able to appreciate the uncomplicated magnificence of a silverback gorilla chomping on a sweet piece of freshly picked bamboo. This animal will not kill unless threatened and will not willfully destroy the rain forest where it lives. It will even tolerate the unusual pheromone and presence of humans that assemble quietly in the bush just to observe gorilla life for a few minutes. A remarkable outcome considering that humans were the root cause of the gorilla’s near extinction. The gorilla has been hunted as a food source by Africans. The proud Silverback gorilla is the most threatened species of gorillas. The gorilla population was, at one time, mercilessly reduced by poachers and by Fat Bob with a big gun hunting for trophies. More recently, the most prominent threat to the gorilla’s survival is the decline of habitat acreage. Farmers with and without legal easement are clearing, grubbing and burning acreage in attempts to increase farmland. Humans are the gorilla’s biggest predator. There is a minuscule total number of thriving gorillas left on this planet. Eventually these great beings will only be remembered in archived film and videos. Our planet’s precarious environmental future does not look bright. Greed and ignorance appear to be the dominant hallmarks of the present and near future. Meanwhile, we should admire these wonderful animals and teach our children what we are about to forfeit. They may develop into citizens of the planet who will carry the baton forward and attempt to preserve what is now being squandered without consideration of the dreadful loss.

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