13 February 2008
Primatologists Snap Rare Gorilla Nookie Pic
by Kate Melville
Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have released the first known photographs of gorillas performing face-to-face copulation in the wild. This is the first time that western gorillas have been observed and photographed making the beast-with-two-backs. The photographs were captured in a forest clearing in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo and appeared in a recent issue of The Gorilla Gazette.
"Understanding the behavior of our cousins the great apes sheds light on the evolution of behavioral traits in our own species and our ancestors," said Thomas Breuer, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute and lead author of the study. "It is also interesting that this same adult female has been noted for innovative behaviors before."
The female gorilla in the photograph, nicknamed "Leah" by researchers, made history in 2005 when she was observed using tools - another never-before-seen behavior for her kind in the wild. Breuer and others witnessed Leah using a stick to test the depth of a pool of water before wading into it.
Researchers say that few primates mate in a face-to-face position, known technically as ventro-ventral copulation. Most primate species copulate in what's known as the dorso-ventral position, with both animals facing in the same direction. Besides humans, only bonobos have been known to frequently employ ventro-ventral mating positions.
"Our current knowledge of wild western gorillas is very limited, and this report provides information on various aspects of their sexual behavior," said Breuer. "We can't say how common this manner of mating is, but it has never been observed with western gorillas in the forest. It is fascinating to see similarities between gorilla and human sexual behavior."
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society
Pic courtesy Thomas Breuer