Wild Animals and Close Encounters

I recently spent an hour observing wild gorillas from a few feet away.  In fact, one gorilla got so close to me that he was able to chew on a shirt I had wrapped around my waist.  It was a great experience.  One I will never forget.

Male Mountain Gorilla Chewing on My Shirt in Southern Uganda

But is this kind of close encounter a good thing?

My Son “Dancing” with a Juvenile Orangutan on the Island of Borneo

Other close encounters that I have had with great apes, include visiting an orangutan rehabilitation center in northern Borneo and going on a chimpanzee hike in west-central Uganda.  Both allowed for very close contact with the animals. 

Chimpanzee Posing for Photographs in Kibale National Park, Uganda

On Borneo, one of the young orangutan’s decided he wanted our water bottle, and had a short wrestling match with my son.  (We obviously shouldn’t have been carrying the water bottle.)

Young Orangutan at a Rehabilitation Center in Northern Borneo

A year or so ago, I watched an excellent documentary by Werner Herzog titled: Grizzly Man (2005).  It tells the story of Timothy Treadwell who lived in the Alaska wilderness in close proximity to grizzly bears.  Bears, like humans, are both herbivores and carnivores.

Treadwell (Grizzly Man) in Close Proximity to Grizzlies

Much of the documentary consists of footage shot by Treadwell.  The story ends, as might be expected, with one of the grizzlies attacking, killing, and partially eating Treadwell and his girl friend.  The bear in question, appeared to be more surly than most, perhaps even bordering on being mentally ill; he had definitely become unpredictable.  Herzog’s lesson is that wild animals are truly wild.

There is another point of view.  Charlie Russell, who has studied bears for 42 years, wrote of Herzog’s documentary:

Herzog is a skillful filmmaker so a large percentage of those who watch the movie Grizzly Man, overlook Timothy’s amazing way with animals even though to me this stands out very strongly.  The fact that Timothy spent an incredible 35,000 hours, spanning 13 years, living with the bears in Katmai National Park, without any previous mishap, escapes people completely.  Even with his city-kid background, I found myself mesmerized by what he could do with animals.  Most people now see him only the way Herzog skillfully wanted his audience to see him; as an idiot who continually “crossed nature’s line,” what ever that means. . .

Off the east coast of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, tour operators run small boats out to have a close encounter with the whales that winter there.  Apparently, it is not unusual for sightseers to get close enough to touch the whales (they too have become habituated to humans).  While the boat trip looks like fun, it would seem that one wrong move by a whale could easily capsize or even destroy a small boat.

Whale Encounters in the Sea of Cortez

Back to the gorillas, who are herbivores.  We were in very close proximity to very large, very strong (muscular), unpredictable animals.  Even though the mountain gorillas had been habituated to humans, they were still very much wild, and capable of being surly.  Even though the risk here was probably minimal, there must be a risk.  There are also risks and concerns for the animals.

According to humorist Robert Kirby:  “Personally, I do not trifle with dangerous animals large enough to have their way with me.”  I wonder if that would include animals that have been habituated to occasional human contact?  Or is there such a thing as habituation?

While not in the wilds, check out this youtube video of a human baby playing with caged, lowland gorillas at the Kent Animal Park.  Is this really a wise parental decision?

Hopefully, close encounters with large mammals (excluding grizzlies) encourages conservation and preservation.  Since there are so few mountain gorillas and orangutans left in the wild and since declining whale populations are still a continuing concern, I guess that preservation is the best justification for our intruding into their world.  One can only hope that our visits don’t disrupt their lives too much.

Having close encounters with large mammals is frequently not cheap, so hopefully some of the money goes to habitat preservation and encouraging locals to be good stewards and neighbors.

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This entry was posted in Environment, great apes, Movies, other animals, Travel, uganda. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Wild Animals and Close Encounters

  1. gold account says:

    • A baby gorilla can cling to the long hairs on its mom for a ride, leaving the mother’s hands free for walking. • Gorillas are very hairy, except for their faces, palms, and soles of their feet. • The adult males, or silverbacks, are almost twice the size of the adult females. • No two gorilla noses are alike! Researchers in the wild take close-up photos of each gorilla’s face to help identify individuals. • The San Diego Zoo’s first two gorillas arrived in 1931. They are immortalized as two bronze busts on the Zoo’s front plaza.

  2. Sugel says:

    DID YOU KNOW? One of a Kind: No two gorillas have the same “nose print,” or nose pattern, much like how two humans have identical fingerprints. In fact, researchers use nose prints to identify individual gorillas. The Simple Life: A gorilla’s life is pretty simple. They spend 30 percent of their waking hours eating, 30 percent traveling and 40 percent resting and sleeping. The Hair Has It: Grooming is an important part of gorilla society. It helps establish and reinforce bonds and friendships. It also promotes cleanliness, as gorillas comb through thick fur to remove parasites. Distant Cousins: Gorillas are the next closest living relatives to humans after chimpanzees, sharing 98 to 99 percent of the same DNA.

  3. Wolves, like many wild animals I have encountered, seem to sense your intention. Just think about how many animals yu see hanging around until the first day of hunting. They seem to make themselves scarce all of a sudden.

  4. roger hansen says:

    In August 2012, Denali NP had its first human fatality caused by a grizzly attack. According to Reuters.com:

    “A camera found near the [victim’s] backpack showed that the hiker had photographed the bear for more than eight minutes and appeared to have come within 50 yards of the animal before he was attacked. . . .

    Park rules require people to stay a quarter-mile [440 yards] away from bears and to immediately back away at a slow pace if they find themselves to be closer.”

  5. linda jane says:

    i believe bears only attack humans because they are hungry and if food was made available to them they would stay away.helecopters could drop food in the outbacks for them at some given area and the bears would go there to feed.it would be a cost to the govts. of those countries but doesnt it make sense to you ,the bears are hungry.if you were hungry and knew people had food ,you,d go to them now wouldnt you.by dropping the food by chopper or small plane ,the bears would not associate that to us humans.what do you think?let me know.thanks.

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