Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A glimpse of world's most elusive gorillas

Using camera traps, the Wildlife Conservation Society recently captured the above video of rare Cross River gorillas, in their habitat of Cameroon’s Kagwene Gorilla Sanctuary. They are the world’s rarest and least observed gorilla species: Fewer than 250 of them are left.

While poaching and habitat loss are taking the biggest toll on the gorillas, they are also threatened by viruses and bacteria carried by people. They share 95 to 99 percent of our DNA, raising the potential for pathogen exchange, says Tom Gillespie, associate professor of global health and biodiversity conversation at Emory University.

Gillespie, a leading primate disease ecologist, researches ways to understand, and minimize, the exchange of pathogens between humans and apes. HIV, for example, originated from apes.

Gillespie’s lab, together with partners at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, is analyzing fecal samples from the Cross River gorillas, to monitor for evidence of disease or parasites. Ebola, polio, gastrointestinal parasites and respiratory diseases are examples of human diseases that have also impacted gorillas.

Midway through the video a male silverback thumps his chest and charges toward the camera. “It’s a very humbling experience” to get charged by a gorilla, says Gillespie, who often encounters them face-to-face in the wild. Although gorillas are generally peaceful animals, and do not resort to violence unless provoked, Gillespie says they put on an impressive display. Click here to read more.

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