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Dian Fossey’s 82nd Birthday 

The leading authority of endangered gorillas would have turned 82 today (Jan 16) if it wasn’t for her untimely death in 1985. Dian Fossey worked in the tangled slopes of Rwanda studying mountain gorillas and developing a habituating process which was never done before. Louis Leakey sent her to the Congo in 1966 and began her conservation work by 1967 in Rwanda. She was the closest researcher to the gorillas than ever before. Her research camp was 9,000 feet up Mount Visoke and was her home and battleground for almost twenty years. She fought bravely for the lives of the mountain gorillas and put their safety and health before hers. She is an inspiration to all and to those who help save endangered animal lives.

Read her articles “The Imperiled Mountain Gorilla published in April 1981 and Making Friends With Mountain Gorillas published in January 1970.

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the bullet ridden bodies of a silver back alpha male and three females were discovered and removed from the virunga national park in the eastern congo by rangers working with wildlife direct. one female was pregnant, and the other two had babies who, unable to be located, most likely died from stress and dehydration.

the murders are the suspected result of clashes between conservationists and the illegal charcoal industry who rely on the park’s hardwood to make and sell coal fuel. over 100 park rangers have been killed protecting the gorillas, one of the world’s most endangered species (there are only 700 left).

andre, an iccn ranger pictured above, is a self described gorilla mother, caring for four gorillas orphaned (one of whom lost a hand) after their families were killed under similar circumstances. despite having a family of his own, andre lives with the gorillas 24/7, describing them as his own children; his own kids refer to the gorillas as their brothers and sisters.

photos by brent stirton

We Need to Talk About Gorillas

Friends, we need to talk about Gorillas.

No, sorry, we need to talk about Gorillaz. The band. You remember them, right? First release of their self-titled album in 2001? Yeah, you know ‘em.

You know Gorillaz. You know that they’re a “fake” band created by Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn. You know that 19-2000 rocked your socks. You know that their newer stuff just isn’t as good as the old jams. You know a long list of small facts about Gorillaz. But have you taken the time to look at what picture is painted by all this knowing?

I’ve been thinking on this for a while, and the more I think on it, the more I’m convinced that Gorillaz is satire.

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Perhaps because we’re bombarded on all sides by animal cuteness, there’s something appealing about a book called “Animal Madness.” Enough with all the cuddling, you might think; it’s time for the real story, which Laurel Braitman, a historian of science with a Ph.D. from M.I.T., aims to tell.

Where the BuzzFeed Animals page, for example, urges us to see animals as an undifferentiated mass of squee-worthy fluff, Braitman wants us to take animals seriously—to see them as individuals with life histories and psychologies as dramatic and intense as our own.

Despite the winsome book design (there’s an adorably sad dog on the cover, and drawings of a glum raccoon and gorilla on the inside), there’s nothing remotely cute about this goal. “Animal Madness” is so upsetting, in fact, that I wanted to stop reading it about halfway through.

It’s obvious, of course, that animals of all sorts suffer from physical pain. It’s also obvious that many animals can be tense, unhappy, anxious, enraged, compulsive, impulsive, sad, depressed, and so on.

Still, it’s tempting for many people, even sympathetic ones, to put those words in scare quotes—to see animal “depression” or “anxiety” as a less intense or consequential version of their human equivalents. Braitman pushes back against that tendency. She has an absolute, not a comparative, sense of the animal soul.

What matters isn’t how much an animal’s mental life is “worth,” compared to a person’s, but how wholly and powerfully it is illuminated by happiness or darkened by anguish. “Every animal with a mind has the capacity to lose hold of it from time to time,” she writes. An animal’s life can be changed utterly by mental illness, just like a person’s.

A gorilla that sees her family killed, and that is kidnapped and brought to a zoo to live out her life on display, may have her whole existence reshaped by trauma, loneliness, and fear. Why argue about how intelligent she is? The point is that her life has been knocked off course and that she is suffering; she is no longer the animal she was.

Laurel Braitman’s “Animal Madness”

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photos by andy rouse from rwanda’s virunga volcanoes, showing some of the less than eight hundred gorillas left in the wild. writes andy, "gorillas are gentle, peace loving, highly intelligent, family orientated animals that have long been the subject of appalling persecution and misinformation," adding, "i hope to show the incredible power of these gentle giants and heartrending moments of tenderness."  

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