October 27, 2020

#08-002: Von Beringe's Gorilla

Mountain gorilla

Note: No "normal" person believes that creatures like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster are really out there. But did you know that the mountain gorilla was unknown to modern science until about 120 years ago? How it was "discovered" is an interesting story...

Get Ready: Do you believe there are species of large mammals still waiting to be discovered? Remember, thousands of much smaller creatures--mostly insects, but also snakes, lizards, fish, and others--are discovered every year!

The date was October 17, 1902. Robert von Beringe, an officer in the German army, had been serving in the protective force of German East Africa, a colony in the African Great Lakes region which included what is now Burundi, Rwanda, and the mainland part of Tanzania. The colony was huge--three times the area of present-day Germany--and largely unknown to Europeans.

Von Beringe's party had set out on August 19, 1902 from Usumbura on the north-eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. With him were a physician, soldiers, and native porters. The party would visit Yuhi V Musinga, the Mwami (King) of Rwanda who was collaborating with the Germans to strengthen his own position. They then turned from Nyanza toward a string of volcanoes over 100 kilometers to the north, visiting other local chiefs in order to strengthen the relationship between them and the German authorities.

Reaching the volcanoes, the party attempted to climb Mount Sabyinyo, an extinct volcano now located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was locally called "Old Man's Teeth" for the jagged nature of its summit, especially as compared to the more conical peaks nearby. To von Beringe's knowledge, the mountain had never before been climbed, at least by Europeans.

Having climbed well over 10,000 of the mountain's 12,037 feet, following elephant trails through bamboo forest for most of the way, the party reached a nearly impassable area of undergrowth filled with berry bushes. As they continued, the ascent became steeper and the vegetation thinner, until at last they were climbing over bare rock for the last hour and a quarter.

From his campsite below the summit, on October 17 von Beringe observed a herd of "big, black monkeys" trying to climb to the mountain crest. The men shot two of them, and spent five hours retrieving one of the carcasses from a ravine into which they had fallen. Von Beringe calculated that it weighed around 200 pounds, and described it as "big, human-like," with no chest hair and enormous hands and feet.

On the way back, an attack by hyenas took part of the animal, but von Beringe was able to send the remains to the Natural History Museum in Berlin. There it was identified as the mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the hitherto unknown eastern gorilla (the other subspecies is the eastern lowland gorilla). 

At a height of up to six feet three inches and a weight of roughly 450 pounds, the endangered eastern gorilla is the largest living primate species on earth. Their scientific name is Gorilla beringei, in von Beringe's honor.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_gorilla

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. carcasses
  2. conical
  3. endangered
  4. extinct
  5. hitherto
  6. impassable
  7. jagged
  8. ravine
  9. species
  10. summit

  1. shaped with a round base and pointy top
  2. nearing extinction
  3. a narrow, steep-sided valley caused by running water
  4. unable to be entered
  5. a major subdivision of a genus of living things
  6. no longer active
  7. before that time
  8. the high point of a mountain
  9. dead bodies
  10. crooked; uneven

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for October 27, 2020

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. a; 3. b; 4. f; 5. g; 6. d; 7. j; 8. c; 9. e; 10. h