CBC Digital Archives

The gorilla whisperer

Fascinating to scientists and zoo visitors alike, gorillas are the gentle giants of the animal world. Year by year, gorillas in the wild are losing habitat to advancing human settlement, prompting conservation groups and UN agencies to name 2009 the Year of the Gorilla. From a 1963 interview with a hunter who captures gorillas for zoos to a radio snapshot of wild gorillas in 2009, the CBC Digital Archives looks at these hairy, human-like creatures.

Getting a gorilla's attention can be tricky, but Pascale Sicotte has it down cold. With a throaty sound that's not quite a grunt, not quite an "ahem," Sicotte subtly lets the animals know when she's among them. Sicotte, formerly a director of the Karisoke Research Centre in the mountains of Rwanda, says gorillas are very gentle with humans but can be fierce among one another. In this interview with the CBC's Dennis Trudeau, Sicotte gives advice on how to react when a curious gorilla tries to climb on your backpack.
• The mountain gorilla (scientific name: Gorilla beringei beringei) is a species found only in the mountain rainforests of two parts of Africa: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, and three national parks in a region bounded by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This species was undiscovered until around 1902. • According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) there are about 700 mountain gorillas in the wild.

• Gorillas found in zoos are the more common western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). There are an estimated 100,000 such gorillas in the wild, mainly in central Africa.

• A third subspecies, the eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei guarini), is found only in the DRC's Kahuzi Biega National Park. According to the WWF, its population is unknown.

• Upon reaching maturity at age 12 to 15 years, male gorillas acquire a coat of silvery-grey hair on their backs, lending them the nickname "silverbacks."

• As of 2009 Pascale Sicotte was an associate professor in the department of anthropology at the University of Calgary. Since the time of this clip, her primate research has expanded beyond gorillas to colobus monkeys in Ghana.

Medium: Television
Program: Sunday Night
Broadcast Date: June 19, 1994
Guest(s): Pascale Sicotte
Interviewer: Dennis Trudeau
Duration: 21:03
This clip was edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: February 9, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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