Among the Great Apes: Adventures on the Trail of Our Closest Relatives by Raffaele Paul

Among the Great Apes: Adventures on the Trail of Our Closest Relatives by Raffaele Paul

Author:Raffaele, Paul [Raffaele, Paul]
Language: eng
Format: mobi
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2010-01-29T16:00:00+00:00

From witnessing one of the rarest of the great ape species in the Congo wild and in captivity, I journey to the Central African Republic. There, I will find the jungle habitat of perhaps the most numerous of the great ape species, the towering western lowland gorilla, the inspiration for King Kong.

King Kong at the Brink



Living in Sydney on the other side of the Earth from Africa, I almost always have to take a long flight on my way to work. The bonus on this journey is that I must fly to Paris to get a visa. My destination is the Central African Republic, a tiny landlocked military dictatorship infested with rebels and brigands, and forever on the brink of another bloody coup d’état. The Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, in a remote corner of the country, is a principal habitat for one of the last remaining significant stands of the western lowland gorilla, the subspecies you find in zoos worldwide.

A gorilla is a gorilla is a gorilla to most people, but to zoologists it is a species, and there are four subspecies—the mountain gorilla, eastern lowland gorilla, Cross River gorilla, and western lowland gorilla. We have already met the mountain gorilla in East Africa, living at altitudes from about 8,000 feet to 12,000 feet above sea level. The remaining three kinds of gorillas live in the jungles and forests of East, West, and Central Africa, and their habitats range from sea level to about 8,000 feet high.

During a span of about 2 million years, the various gorillas evolved from a common ancestor, all belonging to the same species but having some distinct characteristics. The mountain gorillas are the biggest and are terrestrial, ground dwellers. The three lowland kinds are a little smaller and far less furry, and are semi-arboreal, spending part of their day perched on branches in towering fruit trees.

Western lowland gorillas mostly live in tropical rainforests in Central and West Africa, and were the only kind known outside Africa for centuries. Hanno, an intrepid Carthaginian admiral, sailed down Africa’s west coast in the sixth century B.C., and in his account of the journey he refers to a wild, hairy people the translators called “gorilla” living on a lake. Filippo Pigafetta’s A Report of the Kingdom of Congo, published in 1591, taken from the notes of Duarte Lopez, a Portuguese sailor, noted that “in the Songan country, on the banks of the Zaire, there are multitudes of apes, which can afford great delight to the nobles by imitating human gestures.” These may have been chimpanzees or gorillas, or both.

The most numerous of the subspecies, the lowland gorillas’ habitats spread across the jungles of equatorial Africa. Though the mountain gorilla was discovered by European explorers two centuries after the western lowland gorilla, due to Dian Fossey’s expertise in public relations, the mountain gorilla is now the far bigger star. And since Fossey went to live in its habitat four decades ago, there has been considerable research done on its habits.


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