Saturday, December 24, 2011

Been there, didn't do that, but it was still pretty cool



We went there in 2010 and did a little bit of volunteer work with a group focusing on mountain gorilla preservation. We did the one-day hike through Bwindi thing and had what we considered an amazing encounter with a gorilla group, but not like this. I'm just impressed at the relatively calm dominance of the silverback in this video. The silverback we saw was far less tolerant, partway bluff-charging our guides when they walked in a direction that he wanted to go (they bluff-waved their machetes around in response, and everybody settled down).  You're not allowed to approach the baby gorillas but they can approach you.  We had one that came within ten feet of us, and that was pretty amazing to us.

The silverback in this video is calm but not completely, like at minute 2:50 when he pulls an infant away that was intensely scrutinizing the tourist's face.  One interesting speculation is that the silverback may have thought that staring into the man's face would be somewhat threatening, as it would've been to the silverback, but it would be hard to reason all the way through that without using a theory of mind.  And the silverback's quick glance at the man as he left was interesting - somewhat cautious, a bit threatening, and I suspect maybe just as curious as the females and juveniles but constrained by social norms from showing it as openly.  Or maybe I'm just anthropomorphizing, but it all seems plausible.

Only 700 of these guys in the wild, split into two geographically-separated groups.  As we see from the population structure of one male and a number of females, the effective breeding population is far smaller.  These gorillas haven't been bred in captivity.

Here's hoping this video helps raise awareness and maybe some money to keep the species alive.

12 comments:

JCH said...

"Jenny, a Western lowland gorilla, was born in the wild and was acquired by the zoo in 1957. She gave birth in 1965 to a female named Vicki, and officials aren't sure why she didn't conceive again. Vicki was sent to a Canadian zoo at age 5. ..." - http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26606656/ns/today-today_tech/t/oldest-gorilla-captivity-dies-dallas/#.TvaG85gzKwI

I'm challenging what you are saying. My neighbor is a surgeon and he saved Jenny's life around 1960. She had a bowel obstruction and some Docs from a nearby Dallas hospital did the surgery, and my neighbor was one of them. He's in his 80s now and he attended most of her birthday parties.

Brian said...

These are mountain gorillas, JCH. An easy way to tell the difference is in the length of the fur.

JCH said...

Okay. Thanks brian. Went and read about them. Animals are always amazing.

Holly Stick said...

That is so cool. Were they checking the man's hair for lice?

Brian Keating, who worked for the Calgary Zoo for many years, has a recent video of gorillas:
http://www.goingwild.org/video.html?videoId=EdJgf7IcAA8

I remember another film he made years ago, where a fuzzy baby gorilla walked right up to the camera until it was out of focus, but you could hear it licking the camera.

Fixed Carbon said...

This is a case of the ole man taking the wife and kids out to the zoo. The ole man looks bored, but the wife and kids love the animal.

DWhite said...

True dominant males have high serotonin levels which keeps them calm but able to react appropriately. Males that reach an alpha level with less balanced serotonin tend to react too aggressively.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

My theory of mind says that Fixed Carbon's theory of mind is right. This was so way cool I can't express my amazement. But then the larger primates are always interesting, perhaps because we project our theory on other humans minds onto them.

Rattus Norvegicus said...

"on" should be "of"

Anonymous said...

What a profound experience, in so many ways. The physical power of the gorillas, their valid claim to 'being' status, their rarity. I think that I'd pee myself too.

The truly sad thing is that a future world will unlikely house this species. A major reason why they currently have a foot in the door is that there is a lot of Western involvement to highlight their tourism potential.

The day will come when post-Peak Oil conditions, and/or other changes that humans are inflicting on the planet, will remove international tourism and First-World ethical concerns as viable reasons for protecting the gorilla remnants. African social cohesion is contemporaneously likely to be much less than it is now, and even now there's a struggle to keep the gorillas afloat.

A future with more economic and social chaos is going to be one in which there is an extremely low probability of gorilla survival. Who would protect their forests under such conditions? Who will effectively patrol poaching for bushmeat and for trophies?

I'm not one to promote rule by fear, but future generations of gorillas are likely to survive only if the local humans are more afraid of losing the gorillas, than of not exploiting their remnant numbers or their remnant habitats. Given the mountain gorilla's tenuous grip on survival, it would only take a very small proportion of humans to show no concern for their existence, for the species to disappear.

Of course, it's not just gorillas that face such a future. Thousands of species are facing the same fate... consider the Javan and Sumatran rhinos for starters. Orangs are basically in the same boat. Tigers. The list goes on - and on and on...

It's enough to make ecologists and bleeding hearts weep.

Bernard J.

dhogaza said...

BJ:

"Of course, it's not just gorillas that face such a future. Thousands of species are facing the same fate... consider the Javan and Sumatran rhinos for starters. Orangs are basically in the same boat. Tigers. The list goes on - and on and on..."

Oh, and on and on ... bird species drop left and right, amphibs moreso, charismatic megamammals (I just made that up!) are just a sign ...

Anonymous said...

Dhogaza.

Yes, indeed the problem sweeps across taxa. I've had the bittersweet pleasure of having handled Australian amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that will likely each become extinct by the end of the 21st century (if not much sooner).

Then there are the non-charismatic invertebrates - the other 99%...

And I've seen almost no sign that our society in general understands the significance of what we're doing to the biosphere.


Bernard J.

Brian said...

It's still early days in this Great Extinction event so who knows. The reasonable-case scenario makes the biodiversity loss the longest-lasting impact we'll have on the planet. A few tens of thousands of years to recover from CO2 levels, but a great extinction recovery takes millions of years.