Mountain Gorilla and Baby
10 and 4 months
Virunga Mountains & Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Africa
At 10 years old this is the first time this female has become a mother, and she is very excited! Her baby is still completely dependent on her and she is willing to rise to the occasion, keeping her close and feeding her up so she can grow big and strong. But she’s worried. She knows her baby is very valuable to more than just her. The humans, who she seems to be meeting more and more frequently, see her baby with dollar signs in their eyes. She must stay close to her family silverback so he can protect them both. She will focus on showering her baby with love so she can grow up with only love in her heart.
One of the two subspecies of eastern gorillas and also one of the largest of all living primates, the mountain gorilla is a beautiful giant who shares 98% of our DNA. They can only be found in two places; a bit over half live in a home made up of extinct volcanoes bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, the Virunga Mountains, the rest can be found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. High up in their forested mountains, these gorillas stay warm with the help of their thick fur, incredibly important when temperatures can drop below freezing. These gentle and shy animals live peaceful lives, avoiding conflict and preferring to focus on feeding on their favourite foods, mainly leaves and shoots and sometimes snails, ants and bark (a good source of sodium).
Mountain gorillas are very social, living in tight-knit family groups made up of females, infants, a few younger subordinate males, and one dominant male, the great silverback. The silverback is huge with a large silver saddle on the base of his back which he develops around the age of 12, giving him his name. His job is to protect his family. He is not so much territorial over an area, but of his family. He will lead them to different spots to feed, mediate conflicts within the group, and protect them from outside threats such as leopards, other gorillas, or humans. He will do whatever it takes to protect his family, even if it means he will lose his own life. These incredible fathers are also often the ones who will take in orphans when their mother has died, providing them with lots of love and letting them sleep in his nest. Some have also been known to be able to remove snares from poachers from the hands and feet of his family.
Female mountain gorillas will often first give birth when she reaches the age of 10 and will continue to have children every 4 years or so. The babies are born completely helpless, weighing only 4 pounds. They develop in a very similar way to human babies but twice as fast! Everyone in the family plays a part in caring for them, giving them lots of hugs, kisses, playing with them, and carrying them around. They are weaned when they are 3 and they become more independent. When the gorillas reach maturity, most of the males (at age 11-13) and about 60% of the females (age 10-12) will leave their family to join another troop.
Mountain gorillas are very endangered with around 1,000 remaining in the wild. It was thought that they would become extinct by the end of the 20th century. But through hard work and incredible conservation work, the population of mountain gorillas grew. It is now the only gorilla species in the world to have an increasing population. There are still many threats to their survival. The biggest threat is habitat loss. As people move into their home, they clear the forests for agriculture and livestock, even in protected areas. This makes it harder for the gorillas to find food but also threatens their genetic diversity as groups become increasingly more isolated. Another major threat is war. The war in Rwanda in the ’90s and now the ongoing civil conflict in DRC have had a huge effect on the gorillas. With refugees fleeing to the Virunga Mountains, it causes habitat destruction, poaching, and also makes it very difficult for conservation workers to come in as rebels make it dangerous. This close contact with humans is also a problem for transfer of disease. With such similar DNA, mountain gorillas are susceptible to many of the same illnesses but do not have the same immunity. Mountain gorillas have been known to die from the common cold. Poaching is not so much of a threat but they are being killed for their heads, hands and feet which are sold to collectors and they are often caught in snares set for other animals. The infants are also being caught and sold to zoos, researchers, and as pets, fetching up to $5,000 on the black market.
HOW TO HELP
Based off real animals that Gillie and Marc met while travelling, the public will be able to meet individual animals.
With public art, more people will come into contact with these sculptures, will stop and consider them, will take a photograph, and will discuss this with their friends and family. Through this increased exposure, the message of love, family, and conservation will be spread much further than any piece of art in a gallery ever could. It will bring people into close contact and will help them to fall in love. With love comes a greater urge to want to create a change and save all endangered animals.
The sculpture will be aligned with the hashtag #LoveTheLast to raise unparalleled awareness about the sculpture’s cause across the globe.
To help protect these animals, please donate to the WWF: https://www.wwf.sg/