Mysterious Gorillas Roam Congo Lowlands

Researchers study lowland gorillas, one of the most elusive of species.

ByABC News
April 1, 2010, 4:16 PM

April 1, 2010— -- The harsh lowlands of the African Congo are almost the last place you'd expect to find former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, Mireya Mayor.

Mayor traded the sidelines long ago to become a primatologist and National Geographic explorer. Her latest gig was studying one of the most mysterious animals on the planet: the western lowlands gorilla.

"They're very elusive animals, very difficult to habituate to humans," she said. "We finally have this incredible get close and to get a really intimate portrait of what a day in the life of these animals are [like]. ...It's very much like peeking into your neighbor's window or watching a soap opera."

Like any juicy soap opera, this drama has a lead performer: the group's leader, a massive silverback named Kingo.

"Where Kingo wants to go, he goes and we get out of the way," Mayor joked.

The 30-something silverback weighed in at 350 pounds and developed quite a following. A harem of four women traveled everywhere he went: one with a newborn, two with young sons.

But Kingo's amorous urges keep him on the prowl for even more women. He's constantly trying to lure them away from other silverbacks and scare off the other men from stealing his ladies.

"He heard another male silverback in the distance, and he just got tensed up," Mayor said before the standoff that ensued.

Kingo must hold his ground because another silverback could kill his children. He was on edge, and ready for a fight.

"They are very powerful animals. I mean, they're all muscle. And potentially, if he wanted to literally rip my head off, he could," Mayor said.

The risk for Mayor and other researchers is worth the reward: a chance to find out how the 100,000 or so lowland gorillas live in their lush habitat.