A MOUNTAIN gorilla
in northern Rwanda gave birth to twins, a rare
occurrence for an endangered species which counts
fewer than 800 individuals, local media reported
"The twins, both of them
males, were born Thursday of a mother gorilla called
Kabatwa. They are doing well,'' Radio Rwanda reported,
quoting information from the Rwandan Development Bureau.
The pro-government daily
New Times said only five previous instances of
twins had been recorded in 40 years of monitoring in
"It's uncommon among the
population of gorillas, and very few cases of twins have
been documented in the wild or captivity,'' said Prosper
Uwingeli, chief warden at the Volcanoes National Park
where the twins were born.
According to a 2010 census,
the total number of mountain gorillas has increased by a
quarter over the past seven years to reach more than 780
Two thirds of them are found
in the Virunga massif, which straddles Rwanda, Uganda
and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Orangutan DNA boosts survival chances - study
AFP correspondents in Paris
January 27, 2011 8:57AM
The Sumatran Orangutan
female Bini holds her 10-weeks-old baby Bulan in her arms in a Berlin
zoo / AFP Source: AFP
ORANGUTANS are far more
genetically diverse than thought, a finding that could help their
survival, say scientists delivering their first full DNA analysis of the
The study, published today in the
science journal Nature, also reveals that the orangutan - "the
man of the forest" - as hardly evolved over the last 15 million years,
in sharp contrast to Homo sapiens and his closest cousin, the
Once widely distributed across
Southeast Asia, only two populations of the intelligent, tree-dwelling
ape remain in the wild, both on islands in Indonesia. Some 40,000 to
50,000 individuals live in Borneo, while in Sumatra deforestation and
hunting has reduced a once robust community to about 7000 individuals,
according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
These two groups split genetically about 400,000 years ago, considerably
later than once thought, and today constitute separate albeit closely
related species, Pongo abelii (Sumatra) and P. pygmaeus
(Borneo), the study showed.
An international consortium of more
than 30 scientists decoded the full genomic sequence of a female
Sumatran orangutan, nicknamed Susie. They then completed summary
sequences of 10 more adults, five from each population.
"We found that the average
orangutan is more diverse - genetically speaking - than the average
human," said lead author Devin Locke, an evolutionary geneticist at
Washington University in Missouri.
Human and orangutan genomes overlap
by about 97 per cent, compared to 99 per cent for humans and chimps, he
said. But the big surprise was that the far smaller Sumatran population
showed more variation in its DNA than its close cousin in Borneo. While
perplexing, scientists said this could help boost the species' chances
"Their genetic variation is good
news because, in the long run, it enables them to maintain a healthy
population" and will help shape conservation efforts, said co-author
Jeffrey Rogers, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
Ultimately, however, the fate of
this great ape - whose behaviour and languid expressions can be eerily
human at times - will depend on our stewardship of the environment, he
"If the forest disappears, then the
genetic variation won't matter - habitat is absolutely essential," he
said. "If things continue as they have for the next 30 years, we won't
have orangutans in the wild."
The researchers were also struck by
the persistent stability of the orangutan genome, which appears to have
changed very little since branching off on a separate evolutionary path.
This means the species is genetically closer to the common ancestor from
which all the great apes are presumed to have originated, some 14 to 16
million years ago. One possible clue to the lack of structural changes
in the orangutan's DNA is the relative absence, compared to humans, of
telltale bits of genetic code known as an "Alu". These short stretches
of DNA make up about 10 percent of the human genome - numbering about
5000 - and can pop up in unpredictable places to create new mutations,
some of which persist.
"In the orangutan genome, we found
only 250 new Alu copies over a 15-million year time span,"
Professor Locke said.
Orangutans are the only great apes
to dwell primarily in trees. In the wild, they can live 35 to 45 years,
and in captivity an additional 10 years. Females give birth, on average,
every eight years, the longest interbirth interval among mammals.
Earlier research has shown that the great apes are not only adept at
making and using tools, but are capable of cultural learning, long
thought to be an exclusively human trait.
Primate Research and Conservation Opportunities
in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest
Instituto Uiraçu is seeking scientific partners to study primates in the
Serra Bonita Reserve Complex and to reintroduce primates that formerly
inhabited this region. The Serra Bonita Reserve Complex is located in
the cocoa region of Southern Bahia, in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest.
The complex includes four RPPNs (private reserves), totaling circa 2,000
ha (5,000 acres). For a description,go to http://www.uiracu.org.br/en/index.html
Originally, six species of primates were present at Serra Bonita:
Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus)
howler monkey (Alouatta guariba)
Yellow-breasted capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos)
Southern Bahian masked titi monkey (Callicebus melanochir)
Golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas)
black-tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix kuhlii)
Research opportunities with primates currently found at Serra Bonita
land was first purchased to create the reserve in 1998, only the
marmosets were present in substantial numbers. Groups of capuchins,
seldom seen, were formed by 4-5 individuals at most, very scared. Since
the reserve was established, in 2001, their numbers have increased
significantly. Groups numbering 16-18 individuals are frequently seen
around the lodge (the guards have seen groups with up to 25 individuals
at the Southern end of the reserve, presumably a different group from
the ones found around the lodge). The titi monkeys were never seen
before. Now they are heard calling frequently even around the research
center and the lodge.
of the marmosets have become very tame. One group of marmosets is
attracted by the fruits on the bird feeders. Three individuals came to
the feeders for the first time about two years ago. They now number 12
individuals--they are feeding on a bunch of bananas in front of the
office window –one adult is carrying a pair of tiny babies on its back.
need studies on the population dynamics and feeding habits of these
existing primate species to inform the reserve’s management plan. Of
course, other aspects of the animals’ natural history can be studied as
Conservation opportunities to reintroduce primates currently extinct at
the original primate species are extinct in the reserve and could be
reintroduced: the Northern muriqui and the brown howler monkey. The
golden-headed lion tamarin is a lowland species, seen once at the lower
edges of the reserve, but never at the higher elevations. Given the
topography of the reserve, it is probably not a good candidate for
reintroduction, at least at this early stage.
2005 three rangers have been employed and hunting has been reduced
almost to nothing, especially at the higher elevations around the
research center and the lodge. Considering this, the size of the area,
and characteristics of the vegetation (more than 50% mature forest and
the rest old growth secondary forest), the reserve provides an
appropriate opportunity to reintroduce the extinct species.
Expressions of interest
Individuals or research teams who would be interested in pursuing
research and conservation activities with primates at Serra Bonita are
encouraged to submit by email a letter and any supporting materials
describing their interests, experience, and qualifications to the
address below. We encourage potential participants to visit the reserve
as part of their deliberations.
management of the reserve will facilitate studies to the extent that its
resources allow, but we will expect our research partners to take a lead
role in securing the necessary permits and in obtaining additional
funding. We encourage Brazilian scientists as individuals or as
participants in international teams to submit inquiries.
O. Becker, Scientific Director
45880-000 Camacan, Bahia, BRAZIL