Just in time for Valentine's Day, scientists have made a discovery about sex among one of our closest evolutionary relatives. Gorillas, it seems, have sex face-to-face, just as humans do.
Understanding the behavior of our cousins the great apes sheds light on the evolution of behavioral traits in our own species and our ancestors, said Thomas Breuer, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and WCS and lead author of the study, published in The Gorilla Gazette.
In other words, a trait we think of as unique to us (soulful gazes during the act) may have originated in a common ancestor. Bonobos, which are closely related to our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, are also known to copulate face-to-face and perform other sexual acts that can only be described as recreational. Such a finding also makes gorillas seem less animal and more human, a reminder that evolution links us with all living beings, whether they do it like dogs or gorillas.
The photographs were part of a study conducted in a forest clearing in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park in the Republic of Congo, where war, hunting, habitat loss and the Ebola virus threaten the species with extinction. By some estimates, the population of western gorillas has dropped 60% in just a few years.
The female gorilla in the photograph, nicknamed Leah by researchers, made history in 2005 when she used a stick to test the depth of a pool the first time tool use had been documented in the species. She's an innovative gorilla.
No word on whether, like many females of the species, she objects to being photographed during the act.
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