Video: An Interspecies Flying Lesson

This publication firt appears on NPR

Mountain gorilla Rafiki, at age 11, certainly was — as we see in this short video clip that surfaced online earlier this year on YouTube’s Wild Things channel. It’s from a documentary shot in the 1990s in the Virunga Mountains of Central Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

Do you notice how focused Rafiki’s attention is, and how gentle are his movements? This is an incredibly strong young male, yet even when he shakes a branch with great purpose in a display toward the owl, his motions are contained. There’s great intelligence at work here.

The owl isn’t yet skilled in the air but, finally, is spurred to make a move. The interaction becomes a spontaneous, interspecies flying lesson, if you will.

The clip is from the documentary film Mountain Gorilla: A Shattered Kingdom — the owl excerpt begins at about 16:35.

Another fascinating segment, beginning around 3:40, shows Rafiki and his younger brother responding with distress to the body of their father, who had died of old age.

For decades, we have known from primate studies that gorillas are smart, reflective, and mostly gentle. The various ways those qualities play out in everyday life, we’re still learning, even as mountain gorillas remain critically endangered in the wild.

Barbara J. King 


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