Mountain Gorillas

cf3f4f14007b46c2a44b2532382d64d6Few megafaunal species are more iconic than mountain gorillas, and few are now more threatened. According to our best estimates, there are fewer than 900 mountain gorillas left in their home range, the Virunga Mountains of central Africa. Although scientists have monitored these primates for more than fifty years, they have performed surprisingly few genetic analyses on them. That changed last month, when scientists announced that they had sequenced the genomes of 13 different gorillas, including seven mountain gorillas (read their report here). The tests produced at least two fascinating insights. First, it appears that eastern gorillas (the group to which mountain gorillas belong) first began to diverge from western gorillas around 100,000 years ago, and that the two populations have remained completely distinct from one another for the past 20,000 years. Second, as the number of mountain gorillas has decreased over the last several millennia, the population has grown more inbred. The closest parallel is an ominous one. According to the scientists who published the report, “the demographic histories of mountain and eastern lowland gorillas bear unhappy resemblance to similar histories inferred from Neandertals before their disappearance.” To learn more about mountain gorillas, check out the links here, here, and here. You can also revisit this classic National Geographic article, which describes the mysterious murder of seven mountain gorillas during the summer of 2007. Finally, the image in the overhead banner was taken from a larger work by London-based artist Rowanne Anderson. You can view the original image at this link, and you can learn more about Anderson’s art at this link.