The Gorilla Man

By Laura Glick

Watching elephants sling mud, gorillas munching vegetation, and chimps eating ants–is there a better way to spend a Monday evening?

On Feb. 7, Science Theatres 140 was transformed into a window on Africa. From luscious forests to arid plateaus, Brian Keating, head of Conservation Outreach at the Calgary Zoo, led a tour through the highlights of the research of Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Cynthia Moss. Keating’s renowned "Three Women, Three Animals," was a multimedia presentation hosted by Women in Science and Engineering whose proceeds went to the zoo’s conservation fund.

"We picked Brian because he has a dynamic presence," explained wise President Tamara McCarron. "He makes you feel as though you are walking in the rainforest along beside him. His enthusiasm is something that makes you realize the infinite possibilities one has in life."

Keating lived up to expectations as he launched into his female-oriented presentation.

"There are so many incredible women who have done incredible work out in the field studying animals," Keating said.

Initially commenting on Moss’ pachyderm observations, Keating utilized slides and video to transport audience members into a canoe on the Zambezi River. Meandering down the water, you were surrounded by 10 tonnes of pure wrinkled magic. Bull elephants walked gently through the stream, sucking water into their massive trunks and spraying their enormous bodies.

"She has been out there, quite literally as the matriarch of her group," Keating said of Moss, who, along with researchers such as Joyce Poole, pioneered communication research with elephants, determining they communicate via infrasonic sound.

"They are the most popular animal in the animal kingdom," he stated. "All a trunk really is is your nose, if you were to grab your nose and upper lip and stretch it to down to your belly button and add about 100,000 muscles."

With that in mind, audience members were tantalized with tales of elephant encounters and facts about the gentle herbivores.

Moving on to gorillas and sharing details about the playful primates, Keating described his first trip to Rwanda to meet gorillas in their forest habitat.

"The forest itself is really quite something," he began. "This is happening all over the world, this business of islandization of habitats. These little places we call protected areas and natural parks are going to become incredibly important over the next couple of decades."

In this particular case a straight line divided the farm land of the people from the dense green bush that housed the gorillas. Islandization like this causes stress on the animals as it limits the range accessible for food and habitat. It also leads to pockets of land being isolated from one another, disrupting ecological communities.

Keating narrated as we watched him find a troop of gorillas and watched the adventures that followed, including microphone licking and general curiosity from a young male gorilla.

From there to Gambi, where Keating met up with Dr. Jane Goodall and her research team and met a number of chimpanzees including Freud, named so for having the largest testicles Goodall has encountered.

"Gorillas are so laid back… chimps are very fast, quick-thinking, smart animals," he explained. "They’re arboreal–they have highways in the trees."

Showcasing the chimpanzee’s agility and strength with footage of the speedy primates, Keating recounted priceless stories of inquisitive chimps and rare interaction.

"If we don’t get people reconnected to the importance of the natural world, we’ll lose it," Keating explained afterwards. "We need to act responsibly towards our natural systems, and education through inspiration is a good beginning point. That’s why the Calgary Zoo is such an effective tool for our nature education programming, and that’s why I put so much energy into my presentations."

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