One of the main characters in Audrey Schulman's Three Weeks in December - an American ethnobotanist named Max who has Asperger's Syndrome - finds herself in East Africa searching for a medicinal plant. Along the way, she follows a family of exquisite mountain gorillas that have somehow escaped local poachers and finds that she has an amazing ability to understand their non-verbal communication.
According to the African Wildlife Foundation, mountain gorillas (gorilla beringei beringei) are the largest living primate. The aptly named silverback - the dominant male that leads and controls each family - is often the biggest ape of the group and can weigh up to 500 pounds. Though mountain gorillas are extraordinarily strong - it is said that they have about 10 times the strength of an American football player - they are, quite surprisingly, primarily herbivores and eat over 100 different spices of plants. Likewise their dispositions tend to be gentle and shy rather than agressive.
Gorillas live in families of approximately 10 members (though groups can range from 2 to 40 animals) and reproduce at a relatively slow rate; "in a 40-50 year lifetime, a female might have only 2-6 living offspring. Females give birth for the first time at about age 10 and will have offspring every four years or more... Able to conceive for only about three days each month, the female produces a single young and in rare cases twins."
Most mountain gorillas can be found within four national parks: the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the Virunga Mountains (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda), and Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo). Tragically, there are fewer than 800 mountain gorillas left in the world - "the primary threat to mountain gorillas comes from forest clearance and degradation, as the region's growing human population struggles to eke out a living." As described in Three Weeks in December, poachers also pose a major threat to these animals.
Together, three organizations - the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna and Flora International and World Wide Fund for Nature - established the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) to help protect these creatures. For more information on mountain gorilla conservation, watch the video below presented by Sir David Attenborough.
This article is from the February 9, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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