WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leah, the first gorilla ever seen using tools, has secured herself another small place in history by becoming the first gorilla captured on film mating face-to-face, researchers reported on Tuesday.
A team from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany photographed the unusual scene in the Republic of Congo. Although other researchers have reported seeing gorillas in such a human-like position, none had ever been photographed.
“We can’t say how common this manner of mating is, but it has never been observed with western gorillas in the forest,” said Max-Planck’s Thomas Breuer, who photographed the gorilla couple along with colleague Mireille Ndoundou Hockemba.
“It is fascinating to see similarities between gorilla and human sexual behaviour demonstrated by our observation.”
The researchers have been studying the group of western gorillas in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo.
“Understanding the behaviour of our cousins the great apes sheds light on the evolution of behavioural traits in our own species and our ancestors,” Breuer added in a statement.
“It is also interesting that this same adult female has been noted for innovative behaviours before.”
Writing in the Gorilla Gazette, Breuer and Hockemba said they watched Leah mating with a silverback male named George, who dominates the small group.
“Leah was lying on the ground and George was looking into Leah’s eyes,” the report reads.
The western lowland gorilla is a critically endangered species, with populations down 60 percent under pressure from human hunters, destruction of their habitat, and health threats such as the Ebola virus, which kills gorillas and humans alike.
Leah made headlines around the world in 2005 when she was seen using a stick to test the depth of a pool of water before wading into it.
Breuer said only a few primates such as bonobos mate in a face-to-face position, known technically as ventro-ventral copulation. Most usually mate while facing in the same direction.
Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Sandra Maler