Mountain Gorillas: The Rules of Engagement

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This post courtesy BBC Earth and the Deadly 60 Team. For more wildlife news, find BBC Earth on Facebook and Posterous.

Mountain gorillas are endangered, with only 786 of them left in the world. Visiting them can be an incredible experience, as Steve Backshall discovered when he travelled to the forests of Uganda.

Gorillas are one of our closest relatives. They may be powerful, but they are also intelligent and shy. If—like Steve—you visit mountain gorillas, respect is key. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Small groups: Gorillas are social primates living in complex groups. Only a few people at a time can visit them for short periods. Large groups of people would cause too much of a disturbance and risk stressing the animals.
  • Stay quiet: You’ll also need to keep your voices low. Gorillas use vocalisations to communicate; loud noise and chatting might confuse the animals or make them anxious.
  • Gorillas and humans share 98 percent of their genes: This means they may be vulnerable to the same diseases as we are. If you’re feeling ill or have a cold you’ll risk passing on your infection.
  • Keep clean: To reduce contamination and spreading disease, the team also washed their hands before seeing the gorillas and weren’t allowed to smoke, drink or eat.
  • Keep your distance: It’s never a good idea to approach or touch a large wild animal. A gorilla might see this as a threat.
  • Listen to the guides: Our crew had a team of experienced guides with them at all times; they understand the gorilla’s behavior and can advise you how to act around them.

For more great tips and moving moments, check out the Deadly Diaries, direct from Steve and the Deadly 60 Team.

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Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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