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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications / Mitochondrial DNA sequence from an enigmatic gorilla population (Gorilla gorilla uellensis)

M. Hofreiter, H. Siedel, W. Van Neer, and L. Vigilant (2003)

Mitochondrial DNA sequence from an enigmatic gorilla population (Gorilla gorilla uellensis)

American journal of physical anthropology, 121:361-368.

Although today gorillas are found in only two widely separate, discontinuous western and eastern African populations, rumors of the existence of an additional gorilla population in central Africa have inspired recent unsuccessful field expeditions in search of the "mystery ape" termed Gorilla gorilla uellensis. Such a gorilla population would have considerable conservation and scientific interest, and would presumably have descended from a population of gorillas that was thought to exist until the end of the 19th century on the Uele River in the current-day Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the sole evidence for the existence of these gorillas is three skulls and one mandible brought to the Royal Museum for Central Africa (Tervuren, Belgium) in 1898. We determined a mitochondrial DNA sequence from one of these specimens and compared it to sequences from other gorillas. Contrary to expectations, the sequence obtained did not exhibit the phylogenetic distinctiveness typical of a representative of a peripheral isolated population. Rather, the results suggest a scenario in which the museum specimens did not originally derive from the northern Congo, but were brought from the area of current distribution of western gorillas to that location; the subsequent discovery and collection of the specimens there gave rise to the false inference of a local gorilla population.
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