By Mark McConville
A BABY Western lowland gorilla has been captured playing with his silverback dad as they spent some quality time together on Father’s Day.
The heart-warming pictures show baby Ivan playing with mum Moka and another female gorilla before silverback Mrithi approaches.
Ivan is initially a bit apprehensive before becoming more comfortable with his dad and pressing his face up against Mrithi’s.
The cute images were taken in Pittsburgh Zoo by photographer Willis Chung (56), from Denver, USA.
“Shortly after I set up alongside the gorilla habitat, I noticed the baby gorilla, Ivan, and his mother (Moka) together, with another female gorilla,” he said.
“They were all eating comfortably together. The dominant male silverback (Mrithi, Ivan’s father) then approached the group, focusing on Ivan. Ivan seemed a bit apprehensive, backing up a bit.
“Ivan, Moka, and the other female gorilla lined up in front of Mrithi, almost like an inspection. With Moka looking on, Ivan carefully stood on his hind legs to get up closer to Mrithi’s eyes. Ivan and Mrithi looked into each other’s eyes for a moment.
“The interaction was very brief, with Mrithi moving away shortly afterwards, but it was something I hadn’t seen before.
“Later, I watched Ivan acting like any happy child with a beautiful lawn to play on, picking up leaves and grass and rolling around. He was delighted to literally drop in on the adult gorillas from branches above them.
“Mrithi moved around constantly, moving along the perimeter of the habitat, pausing every so often to feed on the fruit provided by the keepers, but staying in motion most of the time. I think the food is scattered around the habitat, as it would be in the wild.”
The western lowland gorilla is the smallest subspecies of gorilla but nevertheless still a primate of exceptional size and strength. This species of gorillas exhibits pronounced sexual dimorphism. They possess no tails and have jet black skin along with coarse black hair that covers their entire body except for the face, ears, hands and feet.
The hair on the back and rump of males takes on a grey coloration and is also lost as they get progressively older. This coloration is the reason why older males are known as “silverbacks”.
Willis explained that while he doesn’t have any experience of photographing gorillas in the wild this encounter was much more relaxed than any he has came across with other wild animals.
“With commonly encountered North American animals like deer, elk, and antelope, it is very hard to get close enough to get head and face shots in the wild,” he said.
“The animals are much less willing to let humans get close. I will often spend an hour in a spot where I expect the animals will travel, and then wait quietly while taking photos, letting the animals get used to me as a part of the scenery.
“Once they accept me as non-dangerous, I can often move parallel to them as long as I maintain what they consider a safe distance. Any quick movements or if I get a bit too close, and the animals are off and away.
“The exception to skittish animals is elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado, USA. These elk have figured out that they are protected, and roam about fearlessly, so it’s easy to get good face and head photos.”
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