An Intelligent Ape


The gorilla, the largest primate alive, is one of our closest living relatives—along with chimpanzees and bonobos. These great apes are among the most intelligent land animals apart from humans. Nevertheless, the gorilla’s formidable appearance, great strength and chest-beating display have often given it a ferocious reputation.

AWF’s Vice President for Philanthropy and Marketing, Craig Sholley, knows well the level of intelligence gorillas possess. As an L.S.B. Leakey grant researcher in the late 1970s, Sholley studied mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey and, in 1987, became director of Rwanda’s Mountain Gorilla Project, of which AWF was a sponsor.

One of Sholley’s favorite gorilla stories revolves around Titus, an individual Sholley knew from when the ape was just three years old to when he grew into a handsome, successful silverback.

The story begins when one of Sholley’s fellow researchers broke his glasses out in the field, and had to rely on a backup pair of a noticeably different style. Equipped with his not-so-new pair of spectacles, the researcher returned to observe the group of gorillas of which Titus was a part.

Most of the group was unphased by the researcher’s return—it was merely business as usual. However, Titus began displaying very interesting behavior. He remained focused on the researcher, gradually creeping closer and closer. Then, when Titus was just feet away from the researcher, he reached out with his finger and poked Sholley’s colleague squarely in the bridge of his glasses.

“This young male knew something was different, and when he finally pinpointed the change he literally put his finger on it.”

-Craig R. Sholley, African Wildlife Foundation

Sadly, gorillas like Titus face an uncertain future. Fewer than 900 mountain gorillas remain in the wild.

See the challenges mountain gorillas are up against in this Steller story. To learn more about how you can help African Wildlife Foundation protect iconic species like the mountain gorilla visit

All photos by Craig R. Sholley #ConservationStory #conservation #wildlife #gorilla #greatapes #nature #animals #animalkingdom #wildlifephotography

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