email a friend iconprinter friendly iconMaking Friends With Mountain Gorillas
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These excursions provided a unique opportunity for observing feeding habits, grooming, and vocalizations at close range in their natural habitat. It was fascinating to watch the intricate maneuverings of the animals as they searched for worms and beetles in tree trunks or groomed themselves for minute flecks of dead skin.

Then, all too soon, the infants were demanded for their trip to the zoo. Their last excursion into the forest was a maudlin one on my part, but happily the babies did not know they would never see their mountain home again.

Silverback Rules Each Forest Group

Two days after Coco and Pucker had left, I resumed my field work. But after more than a two-month absence from my wild gorilla groups, I was uncertain of my reception.

Thus far in my studies I had watched nine groups, each numbering from 5 to 19 members. The average was 13. Of these nine, I had chosen four for close-up observation.

One dominant male, or silverback (so called because the hair across the male gorilla’s back turns silver with age), reigns without question within each group. The subordinate males serve as sentries and guards.

For clarity in my field notes, I refer to the groups by numbers. The gorillas I contacted on my first day back in the field were Group 8; they are headed by Rafiki, a wise old silverback.

Armed with some new vocalizations learned from Coco and Pucker, I approached the group, feeling like a stranger. Would I have to win their acceptance all over again?

Naoom, naoom, naoom,” I croaked, first in the deep tones of Coco, then in the higher-pitched voice of Pucker. (This particular sound, I had learned, apparently meant, “Food is served. Come and get it!”) The reaction was something to behold. Rafiki came up to me with an expression that seemed to say, “Come on, now. You can't fool me!” They had not forgotten me.

Rafiki’s particular group is unique in that there are no females or infants. Since the five males have no young to protect, they give full rein to their curiosity. It would seem that the boredom of their bachelor life is relieved by the many contacts we have shared.

These contacts have been very exciting ones. Sometimes I observe the group from a tree, and Peanuts, Geezer, and Samson, the three youngest males, climb up to join me. It is they who investigate my camera equipment and my boots and clothing.

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