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7.10.2009 8:25 AM

Watch This Award-Winning Documentary About Mountain Gorillas

2009 is the Year of the Gorilla, highlighting their plight: There are fewer gorillas in the world than there are people in Spokane, Wash.

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By Dan Shapley

A new documentary, Gorillas ... 98.6% Human, which features scientists working with the African Wildlife Foundation in Rwanda, has won the audience award for Best Documentary Short at the 2009 Annual Maui Film Festival.

Good timing. 2009 is the Year of the Gorilla.

Directed by Charles Annenberg Weingarten, Gorillas ... 98.6% Human covers a trip to Rwanda, with the scientists studying four mountain gorilla families. There are only about 700 of these animals alive today. As the title points out, genetically, gorillas are all but identical to us. The documentary was filmed by explore, a philanthropic multimedia organization.

Take a look at the movie, and learn more about the Year of the Gorilla:

2009: Year of the Gorilla

The world's gorilla population is just 200,000 — less than the population of Spokane, Wash.

In 2009, those 200,000 individuals, split among four subgroups in central Africa, will seek the attention of the world, as the United Nations and its partners recognize 2009 as the Year of the Gorilla.

In 2008, a similar coalition highlighted frogs and amphibians, with the result that more people were made aware of the "extinction crisis" facing the world's amphibians, due to disease, habitat loss and, possibly, global warming.

Gorillas, with their humanlike appearance, have a leg up. We're naturally drawn to them, and naturally empathize with their plight. In 2008, some welcome good news came for gorillas, as the total known population doubled with the discovery of a group of mountain gorillas in the northern Congo. But gorillas have also been caught in the cross fire, or crosshairs, of rival groups fighting in the war-torn region. Hunting, deforestation and disease continue to threaten gorillas, and all four subspecies are considered "critically endangered."

The survival of these species — evolutionary cousins, really — depends on protecting tracts of wilderness through 10 African nations (Angola, Cameroon, Republic of Central Africa, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda), and in the improvement of conditions for the humans living beside and among them. That, of course, is a worthy goal even in the absence of gorillas. But if humans don't have peace and prosperity, violence, hunting and deforestation will continue to decimate the gorillas.

For more information, visit the Year of the Gorilla Website.

If you enjoyed that explore documentary, check out the organization's film about the Arctic:


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