Wild gorillas visit a tourist camp

January 17, 2012 • 11:29 am

From LiveLeak, here’s a pretty amazing 6-minute film of a troop of wild gorillas strolling through a tourist camp in Uganda.

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Note the knuckle-walking (the form of locomotion our ancestors abandoned) and the huge size and muscularity of the silverback males.  (Note also the huge sexual dimorphism in size; females are tiny in comparison.)

Given that one of these can easily rip a human apart, I’d be really scared if I were the guy with the camera. It seems that he’s showing submissive behavior that may have made his encounter a bit less dangerous.  I don’t think you’re supposed to stare directly at one of these dudes.

What an experience that would have been.  A rare meeting of cousins once removed!

h/t: Bruce Grant

30 thoughts on “Wild gorillas visit a tourist camp

    1. No. He was in a potentially dangerous situation, and he seemingly handled it appropriately.
      Most wild animals are not particularly dangerous (Aedes aegyptica and relatives being an exception). however, they tend to have different opinions to humans about what is important, and may decide to make themselves more comfortable by killing you if they feel threatened by you. Which is a long way from the death-on-legs that your post implies.
      Disclaimer : I hear that there is rumour in the local villages that there is a lion prowling the vicinity. So when I walk to the bar (or stagger away) I’m generally talking to a companion (or swearing at the mosquitoes), tripping over roots, waving a torch about and if necessary singing rude songs about the sexual habits of Tanzanian Lions (and singing them really badly!). Which makes the likelihood of a startled lion eating my face acceptably low. Risk properly managed.
      Then again, this being East Africa, I suppose that Hom.Sap and Panth.Leo can have a reasonable argument about who is the native and who is the interloper. I’ll let the lion win the argument, so as not to hurt his feelings. Or gums.

  1. Wow, that guy had a stupid grin showing his teeth the whole time – he’s damn lucky the big silverback didn’t take his head off. Showing teeth is a sign of aggression in primate behavior, and it usually agitates them. You’d think that any nature camp where wild animal encounters would happen would have informed people to keep their teeth covered if they encounter wild animals, esp primates. Lucly, lucky man to go unharmed.

    1. Didn’t know silverbacks could see through solid objects like a person’s skull. He was quite submissive when that silverback was at his side. It seems more like you get agitated and become aggressive when you see teeth.

      1. Showing teeth is not a sign of aggression in or to gorillas or primates generally. They have a “grin of submission” that might be the evolutionary basis of our (human) smile. An abruptly snapped-open o-shape mouth is a sign of aggression, an “open-mouth threat” in monkeys I’m not sure about apes.

  2. Yep, making eye contact is a challenge and is considered a threat by the dominant male. He would respond aggressively to assert his dominance. Avoiding eye contact and maintaining a submissive posture signals that you are no threat and have no aggressive intentions to challenge his authority.

      1. Too likely. Gorillas are very susceptible to a number of human diseases.

        Indeed. I heard a year or two ago of an orangutang that caught several STIs in the brothel it was working in. No, seriously.

  3. I wonder if gorillas like that are actually used to humans not getting their social cues and tend to ignore rather than attack? We must seem like sub-par children to them.

    1. He did refer to them in the intro as “habituated” gorillas, which I take mean gorillas that are used to having humans gawk at them.

  4. What do these gorillas consider us to be? Are we just another animal to them or do they suspect there’s something special. They must at least understand that we are usually a very dangerous animal.

  5. About 20 years ago, I visited Tanzania’s Gombe Stream Nation park, home to Goodall’s chimp research center. We were advised that if we were to encounter chimp troop while out in the park, we should turn away and crouch down, holding on to the nearest tree for cover.

    One day while walking a trail, our group encountered some chimps. A large male knuckle-walked towards us with an intent, unmistakeable look in eyes. I immediately crouched down and grabbed a pathetic little sapling. There was a blur of movement and noise, and then the chimps were past us. When I stood up, every single male in our group had been knocked over.

  6. Interesting – and as explained also by others, safety is linked with appropriate behavior.

    I always enjoy your posts (I’m in Burundi) – and have a monkey-blog on my web site, second entry down.

  7. Amazing video, especially how the babies and female started grooming the man. And then, when the silverback left, they all followed after him at once.

  8. “knuckle-walking (the form of locomotion our ancestors abandoned”

    Not likely. We didn’t take it up, certainly, but it’s extremely likely our ancestors never used it as our primary mode of locomotion.

    1. yah, i was going to say the same thing. chimp and gorilla knuckle walk via different mechanisms, so it seems it’s a case of covergent evolution. the last common ancestor of us three was most likely an arboreal grasping ape. gorillas came down first and got big and herbivoreal, and they solved the locomotion problem with knuckle walking. then later the ardipithecus-like chimp/human ancestor came down and probably became a biped first, one group stayed in the forest and got heavy and became knuckle walking chimps, the other group went the savannah route and became the obligate biped writing this comment today!

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