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Stop the slaughtering of the Mountain Gorillas

Hanging On*******

Of the three subspecies of gorillas, the mountain gorilla is the most highly endangered. According to most estimates, about 600 survive today -- half of them in Virunga, the area depicted in the Museum's diorama. Gorilla exportation is strictly controlled by CITES and other international agreements, but there is still an active, lucrative market for endangered primates. In one case, for example, a LACTATING female mountain gorilla was found dead, killed by poachers, without an infant nearby. The baby had probably been captured and sold to a private collector or zoo.

Hunting and poaching are the leading threats to gorilla populations throughout Africa. Gorillas are shot, speared, and trapped for their meat as well as for trophies. Gorillas are sometimes caught in snares set for smaller animals and die of infected wounds. Their survival is also threatened by habitatdestruction caused by agriculture and logging. Human populations in central Africa are increasing, which means that the gorillas' habitat will continue to shrink.

The African countries that are the gorillas' home are doing the best they can to protect them, but these efforts are hampered by financial constraints and pressing developmental problems. Some conservationists would like to see the Virunga Mountains established as a United Nations World Heritage Site and Biosphere reserve -- a designation that would give the area a special status and increase the chances for the mountain gorilla's survival.

The vast forests that cover the Virunga Mountains straddling the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and Zaire in Africa are home to thousands of species of animals. To our eyes, none is more striking than our close cousin, the mountain gorilla. The diorama in the Museum's Akeley Hall of African Mammals shows a family of gorillas on a forested mountainside. The large adult male, called a silverback, in the center of the group pounds his chest with his fists -- a slightly misleading pose because gorillas usually beat their chests with their palms open, probably because it makes more noise that way. This looks like a display of gorilla bravura; in fact gorillas normally make such aggressive displays only when they're threatened.

Gorillas are the largest living primates and, along with chimpanzees, are our closest living relatives. They are herbivores, feeding on leaves and young shoots -- although, like many primates, they occasionally eat other things as well. Young gorillas are capable of impressive acrobatic displays in trees, but adults are usually ground dwellers. Weighing up to 400 pounds (182 kg), they're too heavy for tree-climbing. Their unusual quadrupedal gait is called "knuckle-walking"; they support their bulk on the knuckles of their hands, rather than the palms, like monkeys do.

Gorillas are highly social animals, typically forming groups of 5 to 10 animals, but sometimes num- bering as many as 35. A group consists of at least one polygamous male and several females and their offspring. Females reach sexual maturity at age 7 or 8, but don't begin to breed until they're about 10. Males mature later and don't start breeding until they're 15 to 20 years old. There is no specific breeding season, and usually a single baby is born. Infants stay and feed with their mothers until they're weaned at the age of 3 or so. There is a high infant-mortality rate among gorillas, so a female's offspring tend to be spread six to eight years apart.

1. Save the Mountain Gorillas from extinction

2. Gorillas should not be slaughtered for coal

3. Stop the Coal Mafia in Congo