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Your Questions Answered

Question 1

Tara Stoinski PhD, our President & CEO/Chief Scientific Office is answering a question from Shelby, “My career goal is to be part of your research and conservation team. I would like to know more about the educational pathways that your researchers followed, and about the work that they do every day. I have plans to start my BS in animal behavioral and conservational science in the fall. Educationally, I would like to earn my doctorate in primatology. What are some of the degrees that your researchers hold? Does having a strong educational background help contribute to your research, or is it better to be uneducated, with a blank slate to build knowledge? What is it like to study the behavior of animals that are so closely related to us”? Having an advanced degree helps in the field of primatology, most of our staff have their master’s degrees and many have PhDs. Most have these degrees in a variety of disciplines, in particular to study primates you might get a degree in biology, anthropology, or even phycology, which is the study of behavior and is where my degree is from because my focus is on gorilla behavior.  So, even though Dian Fossey came to this field without a scientific background, she actually got her PhD while studying the gorillas. These days it’s really necessary to have a masters or PhD to be able to work in the field design your studies, analyze your results, publish them, and get the grants you often need to do scientific research in the field. I hope that helps and thanks again for your question and your interest in the gorillas.  I hope that you follow a scientific career as well!

Question 2

My name is veronica, I am the senior advisor for the gorilla program at the Fossey Fund.  Thank you, Ashley, for your questions, you asked if all infant male gorillas grow up to be silverbacks? The answer to that is yes.  When gorillas are between 8-10 years old, they start to grow quickly in size compared to females. At age 12, we officially call them silverbacks.  At that time the hair on their backs begin to turn from black to grey. They become fully silver between 14 and 15 years old. 

Question 3

Hi, my name is Jean Paul Hirwa, I am the gorilla program manager for the Fossey Fund in Rwanda. Thank you, Tracy, for your interesting question!  Mountain gorilla families overlap a lot in their habitat. They do not protect their territories as other animals, like chimpanzees and lions do. When groups split, the old family members are friendly when they see each other compared to gorillas who have never lived together.  In fact, young gorillas, from split groups can engage into authoritative behavior like spraying. Silverbacks don’t socialize as young gorillas do, but they don’t fight as much as it happens when nonrelated families encounter each other.

Question 4

Winnie has been with the Fossey Fund since 2004 and is answering the question from Nylene, asking “How long do baby gorillas nurse and at what age are they fully weaned”? Winnie studied this as part of her PhD.  Looking at our long-term records, going back to the 70’s, mountain gorillas are full weaned on average at 40 months, around 3.5 years. Apart from humans, there is no other great ape that is weaned at such an early age. We believe this has something to do with the food they prefer which is readily available all year round.  This allows them to be independent from mother’s milk at much earlier age than other great apes.

Question 5

Hi this is Ivan Amani, the community engagement manager for the Fossey Fund.  As an organization that is passionate about partnerships as a conservation impact delivery model, we do a large extent work with local communities. We conduct conservation education, but also work with them to design community projects that demonstrate the value of gorilla conservation in more tangible ways. And as a result, communities have been able to find alternative ways of life outside of the gorilla habitat. They have had their food security improved, they have better nutrition, but most of all, they increasingly see reduced cases of human and wildlife conflicts.  

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