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Gorillas in a Tryst
By BRYAN WALSH
Thomas Breuer - WCS/MPI-EVA
Leah was staring at George. A series of rapid, pulsating whimpers escaped her lips. She then drew near to George, who locked gazes with her, his face unreadable. His shoulders were relaxed, and when Leah was within his grasp he opened his right arm and embraced her. Leah lay on the ground and George looked into her eyes. He bent over to lie on her, while Leah wrapped her legs around George's waist...
Is this a missing letter from the Penthouse Forum? The steamy section of a well-thumbed romance novel? Try neither: The scene is actually taken from the April 2007 issue of the Gorilla Gazette, a primatology journal. Leah and George aren't star-crossed lovers caught in mid-tryst. They're western gorillas in Nouabale-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, observed by primatologists whose interest is far more scientific than it is prurient. There's reason to watch — Leah and George's moment in the Mbeli Bai forest clearing, captured on film by a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute in Germany, is one of the only times gorillas have been seen mating face to face, rather than face to back. "It's an extremely rare behavior," says Thomas Breuer, the primatologist who photographed the pair through a telelens. "We haven't seen this in 13 years of observation. If you look at the photos it's a very nice piece of action."