Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Gorillas . . . trailed by scientists

Sunday night’s Nature program on PBS, about the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, raised bigger questions than it answered.

These are “silverbacks,” named for the distinctive band of (you guessed it) silver that marks mature gorillas. These are also the gorillas with whom scientist Dian Fossey was long associated.

The program followed one gorilla, Titus, 33 years old and still, amazingly, the ruler of a large band of females and other males. He had been orphaned at 4 and for little other reason that was given than that he was good looking, he assumed leadership. However, Kuryama, another, younger male, threatens Titus’s dominance, eventually taking over.

At one point, Titus leads his followers to the top of a volcano and into its crater; this part was surprising and interesting. Far down the green hillside was a crater lake, although the gorillas stay near the top until Kuryama leads most of the band back down. End of Titus’s rule.

Most of the questions raised had to do with why scientists have for years trailed these gorillas around making notes on the most minute details of their lives. There was no answer given – just lots of footage of young and older-now scientists taking notes and speaking in whispers to the camera.

What good did their observations – or “intrusions” -- do for the gorillas? It’s anybody’s guess. But no doubt there’s a scientist connected with this project who can tell us when and how many times each one thumped his chest with his fists.

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