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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Consider the Mountain Gorilla

The Mountain Gorilla (gorilla beringei beringei - a species so nice, they named it twice!) lives in Uganda and Rwanda.  It is listed as "Critically Endangered," a distinction won by any species with fewer than 50 million individuals. In the case of the Mountain Gorilla, there are fewer than 900.

Mountain Gorillas seem to have a natural aversion to reptiles and rainy days.  Baby Mountain Gorillas, which will chase anything that moves, run away from caterpillars and lizards.  They're running away from all the wrong things.

In reality, the Mountain Gorilla is the victim of the usual suspects - ie us.  Industrialization and agriculture continue to encroach on their limited habitat, and while no one would willingly eat gorilla meat, they are often caught in traps meant for other animals, and baby gorillas are sought by people wanting an exotic pet.  (The adult male gorilla stands about five foot tall in its stocking feet and weighs in at about 430 pounds, so this is not a pet recommended for apartment dwellers.)  Ongoing civil unrest in Rwanda and Uganda also threatens the gorillas who sometimes carelessly step on landmines meant for humans.  (No one has gotten around to listing humans themselves as an endangered species even in Rwanda and Uganda.)  Being Critically Endangered itself turns out to be dangerous, because eco-tourists wanting to get a look at one while they still can, bring along microbes to which gorillas lack immunity.  (Cover your mouths when you sneeze, people!)

One last threat to the Mountain Gorilla is the Mountain Gorilla itself.  When a new silverback deposes an old one, he goes about systematically killing all his rival's babies; this, of course, ensures that only the strongest and most powerful Mountain Gorillas reproduce.  Wikipedia says - and if it's on Wikipedia, it must be true - that a Mountain Gorilla is ten times as strong as the strongest football player in America, but since their strength doesn't do them much good against humans armed with landmines and chickenpox, and since they don't have any other significant predators, and since they don't play football, the only purpose for all this brawn seems to be killing baby Mountain Gorillas.

Genetically, humans have more in common with the great apes than horses have with zebras, which should give us pause.  Like the Mountain Gorilla we have evolved massive powers - land mines, nuclear bombs, handguns - which we employ primarily against each other with Mountain Gorillas and their like being only collateral damage.  There are nearly seven billion humans on the planet, a species that invented genocide, nuclear weapons, and jihad.  And yet, between 25% and 30% of us report their greatest fear is spiders.

We're running from all the wrong things.

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