Monday, September 29, 2008

Gorillas in Our Midst

Nathan has twice visited the fascinating mountain gorillas (see photos of Nathan in my previous blog post); I have visited the mountain gorillas three times (three different gorilla groups). They live in very well ordered, separate “families” in the Virunga Mountains, a relatively small geographic area which touches the borders of Rwanda, D.R. Congo, and Uganda. They are not found anyplace else in the world,… not even in any zoo, for they do not survive in captivity. Today there are only 380 mountain gorillas, a number that is slowly increasing because of concerted conservation efforts.

The “silverback” is the undeniable alpha ape of the family, which also includes his numerous wives, adolescents (male adolescents are called “blackbacks”), and babies. Silverbacks can exceed 6 feet and 500 pounds. They consume up to 75 pounds of vegetation each day. That’s a lot of salad, keeping them quite regular. (Pictured above are two different silverbacks of two separate families.)

These mountain gorillas are the very gorillas of Dian Fossey fame,… Gorillas In The Mist, etc. Dian Fossey was hacked to death by an unknown attacker at her remote research center in the Virunga Mountains in 1985. Nathan and I have hiked very near the site of her death and burial.

Mountain gorillas are quite comfortable with we homo sapiens. Although they can be very playful and amusing, they are generally calm and complacent, indeed quite lazy. We are supposed to maintain a distance of 7 meters, but nobody does. We intend to respect the “Don’t Touch” rule because of fear of transmitting disease to the gorillas. But during visits this past week, one gorilla jumped out of a tree onto Nathan, and another snuck up behind one of my visitors and grabbed her leg, perhaps desiring another “wife” for his group. (Now how would I explain that one to Headquarters?)

I am told that we share 98% of our genes with mountain gorillas, or vice versa,… it doesn’t really matter. Staring into the eyes of a mountain gorilla (they seem to enjoy “staring contests” as much as we do) is very, very strange. The “connection” is inescapable. Everyone is quite struck by an unexpected sense of kinship. As amazing and unforgettable as this experience is, it does not necessarily impact or alter ones views on Darwinism, other evolutionary theory, intelligent design, etc. It is simply beautiful and fascinating,... just as is all of God’s artful work.