Study garners unique mating photos of wild gorillas

Feb 12, 2008
Study garners unique mating photos of wild gorillas
Taken by researchers for the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, this image is one of a series showing western gorillas mating 'face-to-face' in Mbeli Bai in the Republic of Congo. These images are the first capturing such behavior in wild gorillas. Credit: © Thomas Breuer – WCS/MPI-EVA

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have released the first known photographs of gorillas performing face-to-face copulation in the wild. This is the first time that western gorillas have been observed and photographed mating in such a manner.

The photographs were part of a study conducted in a forest clearing in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo that appeared in a recent issue of The Gorilla Gazette.

“Understanding the behavior of our cousins the great apes sheds light on the evolution of behavioral traits in our own species and our ancestors,” said Thomas Breuer, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and WCS and lead author of the study. “It is also interesting that this same adult female has been noted for innovative behaviors before.”

The western lowland gorilla is listed as Critically Endangered as a result of hunting by humans, habitat destruction, and health threats such as the Ebola virus.

The female gorilla in the photograph, nicknamed “Leah” by researchers, made history in 2005 when she was observed using tools – another never-before-seen behavior for her kind in the wild. Breuer and others witnessed Leah using a stick to test the depth of a pool of water before wading into it in Mbeli Bai, where researchers have been monitoring the gorilla population since 1995.

Researchers say that few primates mate in a face-to-face position, known technically as ventro-ventral copulation; most primate species copulate in what’s known as the dorso-ventral position, with both animals facing in the same direction. Besides humans, only bonobos have been known to frequently employ ventro-ventral mating positions. On a few occasions, mountain gorillas have been observed in ventro-ventral positions, but never photographed. Western gorillas in captivity have been known to mate face-to-face, but not in the wild, which makes this observation a noteworthy first.

“Our current knowledge of wild western gorillas is very limited, and this report provides information on various aspects of their sexual behavior,” added Breuer, whose study is funded by the Brevard Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Max Planck Society, Sea World & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Toronto Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society and Woodland Park Zoo. “We can’t say how common this manner of mating is, but it has never been observed with western gorillas in the forest. It is fascinating to see similarities between gorilla and human sexual behavior demonstrated by our observation.”

Scientists estimate that western gorillas have declined 60 percent in recent years due to habitat loss, illegal hunting, and Ebola hemorrhagic fever. The Wildlife Conservation Society, which is the only organization working to protect all four gorilla sub-species (also including the Cross River Gorilla, the mountain gorilla, and the Grauer’s gorilla), has been studying gorillas and other wildlife in the Republic of Congo since the 1980s. In 1993, the Congolese Government, working in tandem with technical assistance from WCS, established Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park.

Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

Explore further: Modern methods lead the way toward a rhino rebound

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Protecting biodiversity

Dec 10, 2014

The Congo Basin is an unruly ribbon of tropical forest: Over a million square miles spanning six countries in Central Africa, running inward along the equator from the continent's western coast. It is the ...

Odor communication in wild gorillas

Jul 09, 2014

Silverback gorillas appear to use odor as a form of communication to other gorillas, according to a study published July 9, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Michelle Klailova from University of Sti ...

Recommended for you

New 'enigma' moth helps crack evolution's code

27 minutes ago

Aenigmatinea glatzella – which has iridescent gold and purple wings – is a 'living dinosaur' that represents an entirely new family of primitive moths. This is the first time since the 1970s that a new ...

Hundreds of starving koalas killed in Australia

3 hours ago

Close to 700 koalas have been killed off by authorities in southeastern Australia because overpopulation led to the animals starving, an official said Wednesday, sparking claims of mismanagement.

Bridge jumper says sea lion saved him

3 hours ago

A man who jumped off San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge to try to take his own life and was kept afloat by a sea lion said Wednesday suicide prevention was now his life's work.

Brazil receives macaw pair from Germany

3 hours ago

A pair of endangered blue macaws of the kind made famous by the hit animated "Rio" movies arrived in Brazil from Germany on Tuesday as part of a drive to ensure the bird's survival.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
not rated yet Feb 12, 2008
there's a little third gorilla in the background. is this a threesome?!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.