for National Geographic News
A pair of wild western lowland gorillas in Africa have surprised researchers by engaging in face-to-face mating, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced today.
Though the behavior had been observed before in mountain gorillas, it had never before been seen in the lowland gorilla subspecies—and had never before been photographed in the wild.
Perhaps just as surprising, the female in the photographs—Leah, named after Star Wars's Princess Leia—is also the first gorilla seen using a tool in the wild.
Conservation biologist Thomas Breuer took the mating photographs in 2005, but the images are only now being released to the public.
Breuer, of Germany's Max Planck Institute and the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, never expected to observe such a sight.
"Seeing the similarity between humans and gorillas in this respect is fascinating," he said.
Previously Seen in Zoos
Breuer is conducting a long-term study of gorilla social organization and sexual selection at Mbeli Bai in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in Congo.
Most primates mate facing the same direction.
"Bonobos [mate face-to-face] routinely—zoo gorillas and zoo chimps too," said Craig Stanford, an expert in great ape behaviors with the Jane Goodall Research Center at the University of Southern California (USC).
But the behavior—first noted in a spring 2007 edition of the Dewar Wildlife Trust's Gorilla Gazette, a newsletter for gorilla scientists—had never before been documented among wild western gorillas.
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