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Page last updated at 10:22 GMT, Wednesday, 25 August 2010 11:22 UK
Gorilla's battle to remain 'king of the silverbacks'

Rosie Gloyns
Producer, Mountain Gorilla


Gorilla's battle to remain 'king'

I watched as Rano climbed over the stone wall surrounding the Virunga National Park in Rwanda and stepped into the farmland.

A silverback, and son of possibly the most famous gorilla in the world, Titus, he stood and looked out over the intensely cultivated slopes that dropped sharply downwards toward the bustling town of Ruhengeri.

Two babies had been born in the same night!
Producer Rosie Gloyns

Rano had walked into one of the most densely populated areas in Africa with an average of 350 people per square kilometre.

His forest home is surrounded by humanity.

What really goes on in a gorilla's mind will forever remain a mystery. But my last four and a half months filming the mountain gorillas in the forests of Uganda and the volcanic slopes of Rwanda have provided some extraordinary insights.

I have produced one of the programmes for the ambitious BBC trilogy aiming to document the lives of the world's last 700 mountain gorillas.

During that filming trip we were witnesses to an epic battle for supremacy; between Titus, a gorilla character we had all grown to know and love, and his own son Rano.

Baby gorilla
A baby just a few days old

The ultimate prize for any silverback gorilla is to lead a group of his own and Rano's motivation was clear.

He'd left his father's group three years ago but had now returned from the wilderness to claim the throne.

The battle for dominance we witnessed could be defined as one of the most incredible events in the natural world, and we were privileged to be filming it.

Mutual understanding

It is impossible to spend any amount of time with gorillas without acknowledging them all as individuals.

The scientists who study them know each one not by a code or number but by their names.

Many of their histories are recorded from the day they were born and their human observers have become as much a part of their every day lives as the huge thistles and stinging nettles that coat these rich volcanic slopes that we battled through each day to film.

Titus, a mountain gorilla
Titus, the old master

The walk to find the gorillas would take anything from 30 minutes to fours, hours and depending on the seasons we'd either be soaked by freezing rain or baked in tropical sunshine.

But even at the height of physical exhaustion it always felt like we were visiting friends.

Individuals like Titus and eventually Rano that we grew to know and love.

As Sir David Attenborough put it so well: "There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know."

Newborn babies

And filming these magical animals we never knew what we would see.

For example, one morning after a particularly gruelling four hour trek we found the gorillas resting high up in the beautiful open sub-alpine zone at 4000 metres.

A female parted the vegetation and walked towards us.

She was carrying a tiny newborn baby, just hours old.

A young infant gorilla
A young infant gorilla

The trackers had suspected she was pregnant but it is very hard to tell with female gorillas, as their bellies are naturally rotund, full of gases created by the digestion of up to 20 kilograms of vegetation each day.

Behind this female another emerged also carrying a newborn infant; the skin around the babies face was pink and wrinkled as it would remain for just a few days after birth before turning to the thick leathery black that they would have for the rest of their lives.

Two babies had been born in the same night!

With only 700 mountain gorillas left in the world every new born really matters, and to find two new babies in the same group on the same morning felt like a sign of hope.

Two worlds

As I watched Rano walk ever further from his forest home into the human world and towards the eucalyptus trees, grown by the local population for construction, but which appear irresistible to the mountain gorillas.

He seemed to walk with confidence, a true king secure in his world, which now incorporates farmland as well as forest.

Rano and his fellow forest dwellers have a foot in both worlds, human and gorilla.

But I feel hopeful.

Maremobo, a mountain gorilla

The dedication of the people caring for them; researchers, trackers, guides, park staff and vets all working around the clock to ensure their health and safety will I believe secure their future.

There are more humans working to protect the last 700 mountain gorillas than there are individual mountain gorillas left in the world.

The aim of this series was to really take an intimate look at these precious animals, a species in intensive care.

This degree of filming has only been possible due to the support we have received on the ground.

We have been granted unprecedented access, filming for over six months during the course of a year in all three countries where mountain Gorillas are found; Uganda, Rwanda and the often overlooked Democratic Republic of Congo.

Episode two of Mountain Gorilla, documenting Rano's mission to depose his own father Titus, will be broadcast on Sunday, 29 August 2010 at 2000 BST on BBC Two. Or catch-up afterwards on BBC iPlayer.

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