Gorilla Wild: Face-to-Face in Africa for a New TV Film

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Mayor notes that while habituating the animals is essential for their study, it also presents a dilemma because it introduces them to additional threats.

"You may be introducing disease, because they are so genetically similar to us that they are quite prone to disease. Secondly, of course, you're essentially teaching them to trust humans and we all know that all humans can't be trusted. But considering the threatened status of apes and of their habitat, I think the reward clearly outweighs the risk."

The risks in Dzanga-Sangha are considerably less than they once were, thanks to the dedicated work of people like Carroll.

Carroll saw the area's potential for gorilla habituation from the beginning, but the chaotic nature of the region before its protected status precluded such work. Logging was spreading and with its roads came an increase in hunting pressure.

"I put aside my plan because there was no protection, and I couldn't justify habituating gorillas to humans when many of the humans they'd meet would want to have them for dinner," he said.

Instead, Carroll and the World Wildlife Fund worked to establish a management system that has eventually enabled the habituation work to proceed.

The plan ensures that 90 percent of tourism revenues would be put to work locally to improve the park, as well as finance local employment for guards, guides, and tourism-centered businesses. The local BaAka people who benefit have been absolutely crucial to the program's success.

BaAka Forest Skills

"The gorilla project would not be successful if not for the BaAka and their skills," Mayor said, echoing a sentiment expressed by Carroll and others. The BaAka's forest skills allow researchers to encounter the same animals again and again.

"I've worked with guides all over the world and I was impressed every day by their knowledge of the forest and the animals. They see the slightest pieces of evidence, a tiny branch folded over or a leaf pointing in a different direction, that would be completely invisible to most people. They work like police investigators and piece these clues together to find out what direction the animal went, whether it was male or female, and how long ago it was here. It's like solving a mystery and the clues are so minute it was amazing."

The BaAka developed such skills while hunting, and this occupation sometimes still occurs despite the region's protection.

"While we were there they arrested a poacher and confiscated the remains of two dead gorillas," Mayor said. "You cannot prepare yourself for the horror of seeing those dismembered bodies and severed hands. We found out later that the people who had led the hunter to the gorilla were two BaAka men."

While such incidents are discouraging, there has been success in creating a conservation economy in which the BaAka can use their traditional forest skills to gain modern services like healthcare, family planning, and education. The change is affecting long entrenched attitudes.

"It reinforces the fact that their traditional knowledge is still valuable in today's world," Carroll explained. "It can become a career, and that encourages them to pass that knowledge down. It was being lost, but the conservation and tourism efforts make those skills a valuable commodity. Many cultures have lost this kind of traditional knowledge in the last few generations."

The program has also led many BaAka to see an old neighbor in a new light.

"I asked many of the BaAka, 'What was your impression of the gorillas when you started doing this conservation work and what is your impression of them now,'" Mayor recalled. "They all said that they had previously thought of them as food. That was it. Now they've gotten to know them as individuals with personalities and they love them.

"The BaAka I worked with were so attached to these gorillas. I think that's a huge breakthrough. Hopefully they will be passing along this new appreciation to others and to new generations. I think that in the long run it will be extremely beneficial to the gorillas."

More National Geographic News Stories About Gorillas and Other Primates
Massive Great Ape Die-Off in Africa—Ebola Suspected
Extinction Risk for 1 in 3 Primates, Study Says
Male Gorillas Make a Splash to Woo Females, New Study Finds
Elusive African Apes: Giant Chimps or New Species?
African Gorilla Researcher, Poaching Opponent Honored
Gorillas Make Home in "Impenetrable" Forest
Ebola Spurs Fears of Looming Ape Extinction
Near Total Ape-Habitat Loss Foreseen By 2030
Where Does Ebola Hide Between Epidemics?
UN Launches Campaign to Save Last Great Apes in the Wild
"Bush Meat" Crisis Needs Urgent Action, Group Warns
Photo Gallery: Lowland Gorillas

Uganda Chimp Numbers Higher Than Thought
Crows Better at Tool Building Than Chimps, Study Says
Tarzan's Cheeta's Life as a Retired Movie Star
Jane Goodall: 40 Years in Africa
Zoo Primates Go Bananas over National Geographic
HIV Originated With Monkeys, Not Chimps, Study Finds

Orangutans Edging Closer to Brink of Extinction
Orangutans Show Signs of Culture, Study Says
Orangutans Losing Battle for Survival
Explorer's Notebook: Orangutans Headed Toward "Catastrophe"

Researcher Sheds Light on Elusive Lemurs
Is This the Smallest Primate on Earth?

First Genetically Modified Primate Introduced
Conservationists Fight to Save Tiny Colombian Monkey
Orphaned Costa Rica Monkeys Get a Helping Hand

Evolution of Primates
New Study Supports Idea That Primates, Dinosaurs Coexisted
Fossil Implies Our Early Kin Lived in Trees, Study Says
Humans, Chimps Not as Closely Related as Thought?
Chimps Belong on Human Branch of Family Tree, Study Says
Skull Fossil Opens Window Into Early Period of Human Origins
Controversy Over Famed Ancient Skull: Ape or Human?
Java Skull Raises Questions on Human Family Tree
Fossils Help Determine When Humans, Apes Diverged
Fossils From Ethiopia May Be Earliest Human Ancestor
Adolescence Came Late in Human Evolution, Study Shows
Are Humans Furless to Thwart Parasites?
Killer Cats Hunted Human Ancestors
Do Pakistan Fossils Alter Path of Lemur Evolution?
Ape Fossil Found in Thailand—May Be Orang Ancestor
TV Programs Probe Parallels in Animal, Human Mating
Sex Tips for Animals—A Lighthearted Look at Mating

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