Nature documentary about the last mountain gorillas. Includes a look at the plight of some of the youngest and most vulnerable of the mountain gorilla population.
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In the heart of Africa,
straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo,
lies a remarkable mountain kingdom.
It's home to the last 700 mountain gorillas in the world.
With so few left, they're under constant surveillance
from a dedicated band of humans.
A species in intensive care.
Our cameras have been given privileged access
to these precious animals
by the people that record every detail of their lives.
In this programme, we'll be following
some of the youngest and most vulnerable gorillas.
We witness the plight of two orphans caught in a brutal civil war.
A young female on the cusp of adulthood,
battling with feelings she's unable to control.
And a new gorilla king,
struggling to earn the respect of the group
he fought so hard to win.
In these uncertain times, is the mountain gorilla's future
safe in our hands?
On the volcanic slopes of the mountains of Rwanda
there has been momentous change.
Titus, the 35-year-old gorilla king, is dead.
At his peak, he ruled over 25 gorillas
and became the most successful silverback in recorded history.
Now his reign is over.
The young orphan he protected has also lost his struggle for life.
Titus was hounded to the point of exhaustion by a younger silverback,
his son, Rano.
The old ruler simply couldn't fight any more, slowly fading away,
until finally one morning he simply didn't wake up,
worn out by life
and his own son.
For Rwandan gorilla researcher Felix Ndagijimana, it's the end of an era.
Titus was one of my favourite gorillas, and I guess,
well, he was everybody's favourite, not only me.
Now that Titus has gone, and Rano has taken over the group he's, um,
I would say that he's keeping the group together,
and that's the most important,
but it's really hard for the individuals in the group
to accept him as the leader, especially Tuck,
the only female of the group, who had a very close relationship with Titus.
You can see that the group is not as close as it used to be
when Titus was still alive.
At just 17 years old, Rano is the same age as his father was
when he became leader of this group.
But Rano is discovering that to be a great silverback,
it's not enough just to be the son of a once great king.
Already, things aren't looking good.
The other gorillas seem reluctant to accept him as their new leader.
Tuck, the only female in the group, is on the verge of leaving.
She only stays because of her young son.
Before Titus's death, he was a confident four-year-old.
Now he's regressed, becoming more reliant on his mother.
Tuck is torn between her duty as a parent and her contempt for Rano.
This is a group in turmoil,
and its leader needs to prove himself.
Can Rano win their confidence and keep the group together?
Mountain gorillas are a species in intensive care.
Around 700 remain in the wild,
and everything humanly possible is done to keep them safe.
The mountain gorilla vets are a vital part of this effort.
They're dedicated to monitoring the gorillas' health,
and can be called upon at a moment's notice.
Magda Braum is one of those vets.
She has worked with apes for over ten years.
Today, she's travelling from her base in Rwanda
and crossing the border into Congo, to the town of Goma.
Congo is home to around 200 mountain gorillas,
about a third of the total population.
A huge country, it was the location of the Great War of Africa,
a conflict that began in 1998
and involved eight nations and around 25 armed groups.
Today the war's over, but eastern Congo,
where the mountain gorillas live, is still home to many armed rebels.
Today, I'm going to Congo to check
on Ndeze and Ndakazi, our two mountain gorilla orphans.
They've been with us in the temporary facility in Goma,
and Goma is not the right climate, it's a very crowded place,
we have lots and lots of health problems because of that.
And we were trying for a long time to find them a better area,
and finally there is the sanctuary in Rumangabo.
It's actually exactly the place where they come from.
We had the call from our vets in Goma that they had a bit of a cough,
which is nothing unusual in this time of year.
So, most likely, it's nothing serious,
but, as I said, we have to be sure that they are fit for the move.
The hope is that the two orphaned gorillas
will pass Magda's health check
and be moved from the hot, dusty town to their new home in the forest.
In the neighbouring country of Uganda,
in a small house in the middle of the forest,
lives gorilla scientist Martha Robbins.
She has studied mountain gorillas for 20 years,
the past 12 here in Uganda,
where around 300 mountain gorillas are found.
Each day, she ventures out into the forest
to observe the gorillas first-hand.
The habitat here is very good for gorillas.
What makes it so difficult for us to walk around
is actually great for the gorillas,
because there's herbaceous vegetation everywhere for the gorillas to eat.
We have much more fruit trees here, the gorillas definitely like fruit,
and so that's sort of an added resource for the gorillas.
Thanks to the work of people like Martha,
we now know that Ugandan gorillas eat more fruit than the gorillas in Rwanda,
that they spend more time in the trees,
and that they have larger home ranges.
Martha's dedication to studying these animals
has allowed her to gain the trust of one gorilla in particular,
the successful silverback leader Rukina.
He leads a group of 14 that includes six females.
CREAKING AND CRASHING
With so many females in his group,
silverback Rukina's life couldn't be more different
to that of Rano back in Rwanda.
The dominant silverback claims exclusive rights to the females
and, given the chance, will mate every few hours.
The junior blackbacks can only look on.
But for one little gorilla,
the temptation to get involved is just too great.
Ten-month-old Ponoka is the youngest in the group,
and although Rukina is probably his father, he could be pushing his luck.
One in three gorillas die before three years of age.
The first year is the riskiest.
Martha can't wait for little Ponoka to reach that milestone.
Although Ponoka is the youngest in this group,
he's not the newest arrival.
That honour goes to a young female called Twijiki.
Females often move between groups to avoid mating with their fathers,
and now, in Rukina's group, the innocent-looking Twijiki
is about to cause chaos.
SHRIEKING AND GROWLING
In Rwanda, gorilla researcher Felix is on his way to see
the new silverback leader, Rano.
For Felix, this is a chance to reacquaint himself
with a gorilla he knew many years ago,
and find out how the new leader and the old female, Tuck, are getting on.
There's little doubt that silverback Rano would love
to claim his hard-earned right to the female in his group.
But at 37 years old, Tuck is most definitely not interested in sex.
Nearly all females stop by their mid to late 30s.
Unfortunately, Rano doesn't know this...
..and keeps trying to impress her with his displays of strength.
But all this seems to do is make Tuck more determined to ignore him.
As Rano continues to hound Tuck, her sons come to her defence.
Now the smallest gorilla in the group decides
to show the mighty silverback Rano who's in charge.
This is hardly the great leader in control.
Pushed around by the youngest male in the group,
and spurned by Tuck, the only female, things couldn't get much worse.
Just 40 kilometres away in the forests of Uganda,
things are stirring for the eight-year-old female, Twijiki.
She arrived in the group just two months ago,
and Martha's log shows that, up until now,
she's been keeping a low profile.
But today she only has eyes for Rukina, her silverback leader.
The way she's staring at him like that, that's classic solicitation.
Very subtle, as gorillas are.
She wants to mate. I'm not sure he does.
Advancing on him, she tightens her lips
and stares straight into his eyes,
sure signs that she wants to mate.
But Rukina's group contains plenty of females for him to choose from,
and he doesn't appear especially interested.
Finally, Rukina relents.
Yep, yep, yep, there you go.
Twijiki's entered a period called oestrus,
a monthly occurrence for gorillas, and the only time they can get pregnant.
And usually they'll mate about once an hour.
There we go.
For the next few days, Twijiki's sole aim will be to mate.
They are very active in soliciting the males.
So, yeah, it is almost like they're...
It's a different gorilla from one day to the next,
depending on if they're in oestrus or not.
Possessed by her hormones, she turns once more to the silverback,
but he's not interested.
Twijiki will have to look elsewhere.
She decides to try her luck
with the more junior gorillas, the blackbacks.
Twijiki might not know any better, but the blackback is only too aware
that if he gets caught, there'll be trouble.
The dominant silverback holds priority,
and won't put up with this sort of behaviour.
Despite Rukina's efforts to break up the young couple's embrace,
sneaky mating does happen.
Genetic tests have revealed
that about 15% of infants are not fathered by the dominant silverback.
It was a mating like this, between Ponoka's mother and a blackback,
that Martha saw before the young Ponoka was born.
Discovering who fathered little Ponoka is important
if Martha is to understand the secret world of gorillas.
The only way she can solve this mystery is with a paternity test.
Oh, yeah, ha-ha! That would be Ponoka.
Yeah. So, the size of the dung corresponds to the size of the gorilla.
So we've been looking for some time now to get the faeces from Ponoka
-and today we succeeded.
Tiny, tiny, tiny.
Martha will send this sample to a laboratory,
where Ponoka's genetic profile will be compared
to that of the silverback, Rukina.
-Do you have the pen?
In Congo, Magda is getting ready to meet the two orphaned mountain gorillas,
and check that they are healthy enough to be moved to their new home.
(THEY CONVERSE IN NATIVE LANGUAGE)
Ndeze and Ndakazi's stories began in 2007...
..when six mountain gorillas were killed in execution-style attacks,
most likely linked to the illegal charcoal trade.
Two-month-old Ndakazi was found clinging to the dead body of his mother,
who had been shot through the back of the head.
Around the same time, three-month-old Ndeze was discovered
next to his dead mother.
Altogether, five gorillas from his family had been killed,
including the once mighty silverback Senkwekwe,
whose body was ceremoniously carried off the mountain.
These atrocities shocked the world,
but the real struggle was keeping the two young orphans alive.
It's all right.
They survived, but because of their contact with humans,
they are unlikely to go back into the wild.
However, soon they will be moved
from this cramped back garden to a purpose-built sanctuary,
close to the forest that should be their natural home.
Oh, don't be shy!
To prepare for the move, the orphans are being introduced to the car
that will eventually transport them.
Give me your hand.
It's very important that they know what's happening.
We don't try to sneak on them and do things by surprise.
Magda is happy that the orphans are healthy.
But before she leaves Congo, there is a family of gorillas
that she needs to check up on, one closely connected to the orphans.
In Rwanda, the old female, Tuck, has so far chosen
to stay with silverback Rano and his small, disgruntled band of gorillas.
As their leader, one of Rano's responsibilities
is to keep the group safe.
But now he is taking them out of the National Park
and onto the farmland that surrounds it.
Rano is desperate to gain the group's respect.
Leading the gorillas out of the park to find a tasty treat
could be a way of winning them over.
But it's not without risk.
Nestling beneath the volcanoes is the bustling town of Ruhengeri.
Its ever-expanding population needs feeding,
which means the last few hundred mountain gorillas on Earth
face stiff competition for resources.
Potatoes are the main crop grown here,
but the gorillas ignore these and go in search of a different delicacy.
Eucalyptus. These fast-growing trees are planted by locals
to be used for building materials.
This sort of damage does bring the gorillas into conflict with humans.
But this is not the only concern for those looking after them.
By coming onto the farmland,
the gorillas are exposed to human diseases.
Gorillas have little immunity to our illnesses.
Even a simple cough or cold could kill them.
Much work is being done to make people aware of the risks and benefits
of having mountain gorillas living alongside them.
And where better to start than with the next generation?
At this school, the Art of Conservation team
are teaching Rwandan children all about gorillas.
So approximately how many mountain gorillas are alive today?
(IN NATIVE LANGUAGE)
TRANSLATOR: About 700 up to 800.
Just as important as learning about mountain gorillas
is the fact that the gorillas
are helping to give something back to the local community.
Money from gorilla tourism is used to build the very schools
in which the children have their lessons.
The future of the mountain gorilla
is in the hands of the people that share this land.
If both can benefit from this relationship,
the gorilla's future will be more secure.
At Martha's forest home in Uganda,
the results of Ponoka's paternity test have arrived.
So I just checked my e-mail and the subject heading is,
"The paternity of Ponoka is solved."
So I'm very curious to see, because he's nearly one year old.
Yeah. "So if there's no other options,
"the case for Rukina as father is quite strong. Congrats."
So yeah, Rukina's the dad. That's exciting. Now we know.
Knowing the gorilla's paternity helps Martha paint
a much more accurate picture of gorilla life.
Although little Ponoka is the son of Rukina,
this doesn't make his first year any easier.
At ten months, he's still pretty wobbly on his legs,
and only just beginning to explore his jungle playground.
But once he reaches his first birthday,
his chances of survival will increase.
Through her close scrutiny of this gorilla family,
Martha is finding silverback Rukina to be a very successful leader.
Part of this success is his ability to attract females.
Unlike Rano, whose only female is the elderly Tuck, Rukina has six females,
including the newly arrived Twijiki.
Young females often move between groups
to avoid breeding with their fathers,
but today, young Twijiki seems happy to mate with just about anyone.
She's already nearly been caught with one of the blackbacks,
and that's a dangerous game to be playing.
Her behaviour has certainly stirred up the group.
GROWLING AND SHRIEKING
Twijiki has now positioned herself between two blackbacks.
Both are interested... but she seems to have a favourite.
The spurned blackback spoils their game.
They started to mate,
but then the other blackback grunted at them aggressively, very loudly.
And then they stopped and the female moved off.
There was a chance that Rukina would come running.
If this goes on for much longer,
the youngsters are certain to get caught.
In Rwanda, Felix has received the news
about Rano leading his group onto the farmland.
He decides to find them.
Although Rano needs the group to help him attract more females,
the group needs Rano.
Without him, the male blackbacks are too young
to take on the responsibilities of leadership,
and the group would fall apart.
But now it's Rano's leadership skills that are about to be tested to the limit.
There's another group close by,
so what now they're doing is, you know, the chest beats,
hooting from one side and then from the other side as well.
HOOTING AND GRUNTING
It's not uncommon
for gorilla groups to meet,
and although potentially dangerous,
it's a chance for females to switch groups.
Felix is concerned that Tuck, the only female in the group,
may take this opportunity to leave.
But Rano seems prepared to risk life and limb trying to hold on to her,
even though she's spurned him.
Why he's so determined to keep hold of Tuck is a mystery,
especially since she's unable to breed.
For whatever reason, he continues to put on an impressive display
in the hope he can ward off any challenger.
ROARING AND WHOOPING
The whooping is thought to be a way of filling the chest with air
to help increase the effect of the chest beat.
And right now, Rano needs to sound as impressive and as powerful as he can.
Felix radios the rangers tracking the other group.
They are very close.
The other group is about 200 metres.
This could be dangerous for Felix and his rangers.
No-one wants to get caught up in the middle of full-on gorilla warfare.
But it's terrible news for Rano, as it now seems inevitable
that he will have to face up to a fight with another silverback.
To make matters worse,
Tuck is definitely showing signs of interest in what's going on.
Oh, come on, Tuck, where are you going?
Already the blackbacks from both groups have started to mix,
but this is not their fight.
It's all down to the silverbacks now.
Rano holds back with Tuck...
..but a clash seems unavoidable.
And Tuck doesn't make things any easier, as she follows Rano.
This is a real test of Rano's skills as a leader.
With three silverbacks and seven females, the rival group is a big one.
There's three silverbacks in there.
These females could use this opportunity to join Rano,
so the rival silverbacks are understandably cautious.
It's quite serious.
Everybody's here, all the females.
Everybody's interested in the other group,
so it's a very tense situation.
If this escalates, Rano could be badly hurt.
The silverbacks posture to each other,
turning side on to show their full might.
Rano must stand his ground if he wants to hold on to his group.
You need to go up there, because that can be nasty sometimes.
As the gorillas size each other up,
Rano's stoic defence of Tuck seems to be working.
The silverbacks realise that none of the females are ready to move...
..and since no-one wants to fight,
things begin to calm down.
As the gorillas start to disperse,
Felix senses that the situation has been defused.
Rano has handled this potentially disastrous encounter
with great skill and courage.
Whether this has been appreciated by Tuck and the rest of the group
remains to be seen.
In Congo, gorilla vet Magda is on her way to visit
the family of one of the orphans.
News has reached her of a newborn baby in the group,
and she wants to make sure it's healthy.
This is the biggest group on Congolese side.
36 individuals, and a very unusual thing - only one silverback.
Usually, in big groups like this, we have three, four, sometimes five silverbacks.
In Congo side, since April this year, we introduced masks,
so, because of the health reasons and disease transmission,
we all wear masks when we watch gorillas.
Congo is the first country to insist
that all visitors to the gorillas put on face masks
to prevent the spread of human disease.
It's especially important,
as these are some of the least visited mountain gorillas in the world.
Magda makes reassuring gorilla sounds
so that they are fully aware of her presence.
He's got his lunchbox with him.
It's an amazing time of year for gorillas now in all Virungas, with bamboo shoots.
That's probably 90% easily of their diet at this time of year.
I haven't seen this group before, but that's a very interesting group.
That's by far the biggest of all the Congolese groups.
And especially we would like to see the female, Maisha, today,
maybe we are lucky to see her,
because she's the youngest in the history mother.
She's only six years old and she already has a three-week-old baby.
So we will try to see her if we are lucky.
Trying to see a mother and baby in a group still suspicious of humans
is proving to be difficult.
But at last, Magda is able to get a glimpse of the newly born baby.
Sometimes, with young females like this, they are confused,
they don't know how to take care of the baby,
and babies die within a few days. But this baby's already three weeks old.
It's holding well, it's active,
starts already looking at its surroundings.
So I think it's going to be OK.
With the birth of this baby, the group is slowly rebuilding itself
after the horrors of the gorilla murders.
War, poaching, armed rebels...
the problems facing gorillas in Congo are immense.
But despite all this,
the Congolese are forging ahead with gorilla conservation.
Looking after the animals are over 650 dedicated rangers.
Often outnumbered and outgunned,
over 130 have lost their lives in the line of duty.
One of the biggest battles is against the illegal charcoal makers.
Every year, hundreds of tonnes of charcoal are taken from the forest.
For the local population it's their main cooking fuel.
Demand is high, and some of it comes from within the National Park
where the gorillas are found.
It's the rangers' job
to shut down these illegal charcoal-making operations.
But it's no good cutting off the supply if the demand is still there,
so, ingeniously in Congo,
they have come up with an alternative cooking fuel -
The briquettes can be produced from all sorts of materials,
including wood chippings, cardboard, even unused husks of rice.
The process is simple,
and just requires a pressing machine to create the briquette.
It's environmentally friendly, and gorilla friendly.
So far, 600 briquette-making machines have been distributed,
producing over 3,000 sacks of briquettes each month,
and creating more than 3,000 jobs.
It's a great success story, and one that will help secure
the future of people and gorillas in Congo.
In Uganda, Martha's gorilla group is travelling deep into the forest.
Gorillas can have a home range of up to 20 square kilometres,
and Rukina's group is nearing the very furthest boundary of their range.
This is a four-hour hike for Martha and the team.
But it's the only way for Martha to see
if young female Twijiki is still causing chaos in the group.
They finally settle, and Martha gets a chance
to look for the young troublemaker, Twijiki.
She finds the younger members of the group playing in the undergrowth.
But it's not just the juveniles enjoying this game.
Twijiki is also there
and all three are chuckling in delight.
It's really nice because Twijiki, the young female, was playing
and so, again, just how she's not quite an adult, but still not quite a kid.
So some days she's a young lady, but today she's trying to be a kid.
Twijiki's venture into adulthood is temporarily on hold.
And with that, the temptation for the blackbacks to misbehave has gone...
The group has travelled close to the very centre of Bwindi
and the great swamp from which the park got its name.
As the light starts to fade,
the smaller gorillas take to the trees to build their nests.
They make a fresh nest each night.
A springy bed of folded branches makes a great natural mattress.
Nothing beats a newly made bed in your own home.
But for tonight, it's Martha and her team
who will be without their creature comforts.
Instead of trudging home, they decide to camp out for the night.
Martha always enjoys a night under the stars,
but tonight there's another reason she wants to be near the gorillas.
There's a milestone coming up, and Martha can't miss it.
Daybreak in Uganda.
Martha is first up.
For her, this is an eagerly awaited day.
She's just a 20-minute walk from the gorillas' nesting site.
And here's what Martha has waited all year to see -
at last little Ponoka is one.
This is sort of a milestone for Ponoka.
About one in three infants don't live past age three,
so there's very high infant mortality.
But most of the deaths occur in the first year.
So now that Ponoka's reached one,
the likelihood of him surviving goes up dramatically.
The population of mountain gorillas is so small that every single individual counts.
It's nice to think that in 15, 20 years,
he might be a dominant silverback of his own group.
I hope I'm still here then.
I won't be running up these hills quite as fast, I guess. I hope so.
Reaching his first birthday is the first
of many challenges he will face growing up as a male gorilla.
But with a successful silverback leader like Rukina heading up his family,
things are already looking good for his future.
Under the watchful eye of Martha,
Rukina is proving to be both a good father and a strong leader.
My hopes for Rukina and the rest of his group
is that they live a natural, normal life span in a well-protected park.
At the moment, Bwindi is quite well protected, so I have reason to hope.
In Congo, it's also a big day for the orphaned gorillas.
At last they're on the move.
Having been passed healthy by Magda,
they are driven two hours to their new home.
It's this kind of commitment to the last few hundred mountain gorillas
that's essential if they are to survive into the next century.
Now they are finally able to enjoy living in a much more suitable home.
They can never go back into the wild,
as it's unlikely they would be accepted into a group.
But they have each other,
and their new home is as close as can be to the forest they came from.
But what of the brave silverback leader Rano,
living on the slopes of the Rwandan volcanoes?
Has the group finally accepted him?
They certainly seem a lot more relaxed and at ease with each other.
Maybe Rano's heroic stand against a larger, stronger group
has convinced the others that he might be a leader worth following.
But what of his future?
They all need each other.
Rano, as the dominant silverback,
needs all the support he can get from these guys,
so let's, you know, give them some time,
three, four years, they will grow and they will start to interact,
having these encounters with other groups,
and they will eventually attract females.
My hopes for Rano, I really hope, you know, he does
get some more females in the future.
I do like Rano.
He still has a long way to go
before he reaches the status of his father,
the legendary Titus.
It would certainly help if he could attract more females,
but with the hard-earned support of his fellow gorillas,
at least he has the chance to follow in his father's footsteps.
Rano is also lucky because, as well as his group,
he has the support of a dedicated team of scientists...
all working to ensure the future remains bright
for every gorilla in this precious mountain kingdom.
Rano, in his forest home in the heart of Africa,
is one of the last 700 mountain gorillas
that together are a species in intensive care.
But it's exactly this kind of care and attention
that has ensured that, for the past 20 years,
mountain gorilla populations haven't dropped, or just stayed still,
they've actually risen.
Could the last few hundred mountain gorillas
finally be safe in our hands?
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Patrick Stewart narrates a landmark three-part series on the world's last mountain gorillas.
This edition follows the plight of some of the youngest and most vulnerable of the mountain gorilla population. Includes the two young orphans whose mothers were callously murdered in execution-style killings, the young female battling with new emotions, and the new gorilla king struggling to keep hold of the group he fought so hard to win.
Discover how they cope in this exploration of what the future holds for the remaining last few hundred mountain gorillas.