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A day with a Gorilla

MOUNTAIN GORILLA “Gorilla Beringei Beringei”

A great many of our species seem to have a fascination with these gentle giants. Marooned in the mountains of just three countries – Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda – and classified Endangered, we can consider ourselves fortunate that they are still with us. Farmland encroaches on their territories, and with subsequent loss of habitat and food sources, the temptation of bananas and corn inevitably leads to conflict with humans, and the threat of disease to which they have no immunity. With a lifespan of fifty to sixty years, Gorillas are primates and in many ways embody the qualities we aspire to as arguably slightly more advanced primates – sociable and peaceable and living in caring hierarchical family groups, which the young eventually leave to form their own families.

Everything about them seems vulnerable and marginal, even their low-protein diet of mostly mountain bamboo, which keeps them busy eating for a large part of the day. But there are some seriously committed people working on their case – the International Gorilla Conservation Programme is a coalition between the World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International and Fauna and Flora International.

This silverback weighs in at around 180 kg, or 30 stone. I photographed him at a zoo. He was giving his fascinated attention to the top of a stick which he had experimentally shredded, while keeping a firm grip on the rest of it with a foot. When I painted him I took him home to his mountains and gave him something a bit more interesting than a stick. Apparently they eat snails and other ground dwelling insects, but hopefully not praying mantis.

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