Gorillas of Africa

Gorillas of Africa

I have no doubt that gorillas are beyond worthy to take the first place in the Endangered Species series. Even though their numbers increased in the past, the species is still critically endangered. Their population was last assessed by IUCN in August 2018. The number of mature individuals was 2600 back then.

Conservation of this majestic species has received a great deal of attention. It is of paramount importance to protect their habitat. Similarly, it is also crucial to recognize, how important is gorilla tourism in the area. Gorillas typically live in lowland tropical forests and transitional forests. The Eastern gorilla in particular lives in the area of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

They are not aggressive in nature, but adult males do go above and beyond to protect their families. Hence there are certain groups that have been habituated to get used to the presence of humans. This was important to build tourism around the species bringing a considerable income to these African countries.

Daily routine

Gorillas don’t migrate, but as the vast majority of the animals, they do follow food. As they tend to feed on the ground level, they are very careful and shy, and certainly not easy to find. They rest in very dense vegetation, which protects them from invaders, whether it is other animals or humans. Sometimes they rest on trees on well-made nests. The silverback male leads its group and safeguarding them ceaselessly.

You might be already familiar with their signature move when gorillas beat their chest. This can be a sign of various things. It can be a display of power, as well as a form of aggression. Likewise, it can be also just simply a release of tension.

Most of their day is surprisingly spent on eating. Due to their low energy diet (mostly vegetation) they have to feed a lot to achieve appropriate nutrition levels. Their muscly body has got no problem to tear a banana tree into particles in less than an hour. They eat all kind of plants, fruits, occasionally ants or termites as well. Another shocking fact: gorillas can eat up to 40-50 pounds of food a day. Can you imagine eating 20 kgs of iceberg lettuce? Well, it is quite a challenge I suppose.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

The area surrounding the national park is heavily populated. Most of the people in the area make a living from farming. There are ancient, highly spiritual groups that live nearby, such as the Batwa. In the past they used to live in the forest, hunting for bushmeat and harvesting. They have a very strong culture and they are still cherishing their ancestors. The Batwa has an otherworldly connection with the forest.

In 1993 gorilla tourism started in Uganda, and local people’s access to the forest has been denied. Some communities received more profit from the revenue, some received less and some nothing. Rangers still to this day guarding the forest with guns to keep communities out. Those people that were denied access to the forest resisted and lit fires as a form of rebellion. Today they are trained to lead tours into the forest and guide tourist groups around. They also take part in maintaining souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants in the area.

At Bwindi, over a 100 villages share a boundary with the park, and the income is now sent to the district authorities and divided equally. This profit can be used to improve their lives, such as schools, hospitals, or agriculture.

However, as we all know, all magic comes with a price. Letting tourists into the forest to visit gorillas present an ultimate threat to the species. Due to their DNA being so similar to ours, it is very easy to transmit diseases. A simple cough can wipe out an entire group of gorillas, and possibly even a population. Tourists sometimes don’t take the threat seriously. It is indeed tempting to let a gorilla touch you, or pet a baby gorilla.

Threats gorillas are facing

Today there are very strict rules to visit each habituated gorilla groups. Tourists have to maintain at least 7 m distance from the individuals. Smoking, eating and drinking are not permitted on the tour, and visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group a day. Is this enough to protect the gorillas, and conserve their habitat?

Unfortunately, it is not just the human touch that threatens these highly intelligent creatures. Due to climate change, their habitat is shifting and continuously alters. Urban developments and the building of tourism areas were the main cause of deforestation. For the same reason to improve transportation networks, local authorities paid a great deal of attention for building roads and railroads. To produce energy for the country oil and gas drilling started in the area, as well as mining. Naturally, the issue that occurs in most forests occurs here as well. Hunting for bushmeat and logging for wood disturbing their natural habitat.

Can we protect gorillas? Will the next generation know gorillas?

Please do not hesitate to donate to help a great cause. You can also adopt a gorilla for as little as £3/month. Help to protect their habitat, and support research and local authorities.

If you want to know how a surf trip lead to 4.5 million pounds of rubbish to be cleaned from the ocean:

Or if you want to read about Catharina and her love of amphibians

Erin’s story

Erin’s story

At first glance, my career path may appear as a professional absurdity.  People like me – first-generation college student, millennial, brown, and female – have never been the traditional face of leadership in STEM, and are certainly not expected to exist, let alone excel in the construction technology industry.  However, after a closer look, I believe my journey illustrates that women and STEM not only go hand-in-hand but require each other to evolve our world and to create a brighter future.

Here is my story. Born on suburban Long Island to Guyanese-Indian parents, I quickly became familiar with being different from my peers.  While my skin color was the most notable difference amongst my classmates, it was my academic accomplishments that really set me apart.  Following my parent’s work ethic and my own drive to succeed, I graduated high school as salutatorian, a varsity athlete, and a state-level violinist, ultimately culminating in my acceptance to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. 

First steps

Without the resources from the small-town bubble I was familiar with, life immediately became more challenging pursuing a B.S. in Civil Engineering on the other side of the country.  I now found being a first-generation female college engineering student made the pressure to perform paramount.  After a lot of hard work and persistence, I graduated and landed my first job as a project engineer in the construction management field.

Up until this point, I was confident that if I kept my wits about me and put in some effort, I’d be able to achieve my goals as an engineer. However, in the professional realm, reality set in full-time with just how unwelcome I would be in the industry… 

My first day on the jobsite, the size small men’s safety vest fit me like a dress; being 4’-11” I had little choice but to look silly and unprofessional with the vest hem swinging at my knees. When women’s safety vests were finally issued, they had about half the amount of pockets in comparison to the men’s, and the couple of pockets that were there were barely big enough to hold a measuring tape, let alone the standard-issue iPads or notepad.  From the clothing alone, it was obvious that I, quite literally, just didn’t fit in.

Don’t question yourself, embrace the differences

In meetings, I was the quintessential token female in the room.  In a chorus of men, my voice was routinely the only soprano heard.  Imposter syndrome took root – was I even supposed to be in the room at all?

Having a rookie status also did me no favors when working with colleagues that had sustained the business with their expertise as 30- and 40-year industry veterans.  I found that expressing ideas as a young woman frequently put me in danger of appearing ‘too intelligent’, ‘intimidating’, and ‘aggressive’.  What were once foreign words now became associated with me – unjustly so – due to unconscious gender bias.

If working hard and being smart were no longer enough to overcome being unwelcome, and sometimes even worked against me, what could I possibly do to professionally thrive?  It turns out, the answer was very simple:

Embrace my differences.

Traditionally, the way in which we create the built environment has resisted change for hundreds of years.  Plans are still printed on paper, and until recently, everything was managed through painstaking manual entry and labor.  Today, construction management is suffering a massive wave of disruption from technology, data, and innovation.  Teams that once stood behind the motto “that’s the way we’ve always done things” now find themselves playing a constant game of innovation catch-up in order to implement the next new process or technology that will save time, money, and ultimately satisfy the demands of a rapidly evolving society.  This has led to a new mandate for leadership in construction technology, data and innovation.  Now as a director in the construction technology industry, I believe that being a fledgling minority female has uniquely positioned me to satisfy that mandate and have an impact on the world.

Stand out from the crowd

As a millennial, I have experienced life both before and after the introduction of the Internet in my formative years.  Adapting rapidly to extraordinary changes and embracing new ways of functioning was programmed into my brain growing up as a means of survival.  In my industry, when new technology is birthed, where most would resist change, my natural response is to adopt these innovations to ensure future longevity and prosperity.  Having a fresher set of eyes leads to uncovering new solutions, which in turn become new standard processes in effective and efficient building.

Furthermore, having a diverse heritage helps me be more open to communicate with individuals with a variety of backgrounds while appreciating input from diverse sources.  You never know where the next groundbreaking idea will come from.

Being a woman on top of all that means that I definitely don’t fit in – which, as it turns out, is not just a good thing, but rather necessary in order to cement my presence as a woman in STEM.   Having to constantly create my own future and opportunities makes innovation in my professional world a natural extension of my life.  I will always be willing to learn and explore new interests.

Learning to stand my ground and be true to myself despite the odds has led to an intrinsically rewarding experience as well as being a voice in shaping my profession.  Although it isn’t always simple, the more I persist, the easier it gets to shape the world and perceptions of society to a place where women in STEM like me can be welcome, expected, and celebrated for their accomplishments.

Written by: Erin Khan

More in women in STEM?

The Endangered Species series

The Endangered Species series

1 million species threatened with extinction. Why do we still deny facts? Is it because reality is scary? Is it because still way too many people no nothing about it? Or is it because it’s not in our interest? I reckon all of these, but largely depends on what level we are looking at. On a state level, there is definitely no financial interest to call a climate emergency. It is also not in their best interest to conserve habitats and protect endangered species. Why? Because it cost money. The market level perfectly adapted to the new situation. Just think of the flood proof, floating houses (why treat the reason, when we can just ease the symptoms). Or the seeds sold to farmers, that are advertised to be resilient against excess water, high temperatures, and many more. And on the community level…well…ignorance is the biggest enemy in this fight. We need to change our priorities and learn to value nature. Because if there is no nature, there is no humanity either.

The newest United Nations report found that 1 million animal and plants species are threatened with extinction. That is due to land conversions (such as deforestation), over-fishing, hunting/poaching, climate change, pollution, and invasive (alien, non-native) species. What is the first thing you notice? None of these would even exist without humanity! The equation is very simple really, because everything is connected, let me show you how.

The food web

In a food chain there are primary producers, primary, secondary, tertiary and quarternary consumers, these are also called trophic levels (5 of them all together).

A primary producer makes its own carbon-based material, starting from carbon-dioxide, these producers also known as the autotrophs. Almost all plants belong to this trophic level. Primary consumers are those feeding on trophic level 1. The secondary consumers are animals that eat animals in trophic level 2. Carnivores or omnivores for example. Tertiary consumers eat those animals in trophic level 3, and naturally carnivores on trophic level 5 eat tertiary consumers. As you can see, this is a well thought out system of our nature, and even the smallest plant is part of a bigger picture.

Avoiding the unavoidable?

But it is not just plants that are in great danger now. It is the entire network now. Plants and animals, all organisms are affected by human activities. These species are suffering from circumstances they never should have experience in the first place. Based on a reasonable estimate there are about 9 million species on this planet all together, with only 2 million species identified. 1 million now considered threatened, endangered, or critically endangered. Are we heading towards another mass extinction?

You can now see, that we cannot just turn away from a plant and animal species becoming extinct. It might be grass for you, but it is part of a network. It is life for some. I still believe that we can avoid catastrophe. I believe that we will open our eyes, and realise what we have done.

Beyond Science is a website for all kind of science, and to praise women in STEM. But it is also meant to raise awareness. This website is my call for help. I still think humanity can stand up for our planet, and turn it back from something irreversible. Although we have passed borders we have never passed before, and we certainly turned away for too long, I STILL HAVE FAITH. We have to fight against this, together. Not just for you and me. But for your kids, and their kids. It is not just about us anymore, it is about all next generations, and essentially the future of our planet.

Kim’s story

Kim’s story

Hello from Dallas, Texas! My name is Kim and I am a controls engineer in a company focused in industrial automation. When you order your headphones online or pick up a single serve pre-made salad from your local grocer, your product may have at one time, been my work product. The work that I do implements sensors, conveyor and robotics to get product from one location to another – its a happy medium of hardware and software.

To get here, I studied electrical engineering at The Ohio State University , but my internship in a similar company best prepared me for this job. I am the only female engineer in my office and as I write this, the only female controls engineer in the company. I’m here to change that.

As a woman in engineering, hearing backgrounds similar to mine helped develop my interest for a career in STEM. I was drawn to it because I was determined to make my career invigorating and challenging. Many people ultimately want to make an impact in the world and for me, finding a pathway to realise it in the form of a college major was the first step. Most definitely, I knew I wanted to avoid the notion of showing up to a job that I hated hoping time would fast-forward to retirement.

Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors

As my senior year of high school neared, the social pressures of deciding what my lifelong career became more prevalent. I was taking Advanced Placement classes to prepare for college, but an auto maintenance class with afternoons of popped hoods and clanging wrenches sparked my interest in tangible problem solving. A Wikipedia article in electrical engineering persuaded me to claim that major and I began the next chapter in my academic journey.

While I found some of the classes difficult, my passion was fuelled by joining a student automotive engineering group practicing real world applications of engineering. In Buckeye Current, we built electric motorcycles, travelled and learned to communicate effectively (for better or for worse).

As a young professional today, every challenge I have faced and how I have reacted to it has created a foundation for how I solve problems. The learning curve in my current position is steep and keeping my head is vital. Outside of my air conditioned office lies a plethora of environments for a controls engineer to commission projects and solve problems, which unexpectedly affects that reaction.

Ask all the questions

For example, a project earlier in my career was spent troubleshooting on a cold dirty floor in a dark warehouse-like space in Toronto. In addition to the dismal atmosphere, my spirits were low from unsuccessful work locating the issues in safety wiring – a vital part to any system. To mitigate the situation, I left for the night and took a local dance class to both take my mind off the stress and celebrate something I could do well.

The next morning, I came in refreshed and rooted out all issues with a fresh set of eyes. I am living proof you don’t need straight A’s to become an engineer and when I speak as a member of the Society of Women Engineers or a role model from the online international FabFem database, I make sure to share that with the many young ladies that are conditioned to avoid risk and not make mistakes. I challenge them to be brave.

If I could say anything to those interested in STEM, I’d want them to above everything else, foster their passion and let it take root. For what it’s worth, that social pressure that I experienced in high school doesn’t need to be experienced by everybody. 4 years at a university isn’t a good fit for everybody especially when STEM can be fostered in so many venues, trade schools included. Ask all of the questions and if you’re willing to stand up to it, there is no lack of challenge here.

More in Women in STEM: http://beyondscience.co.uk/catharinas-story/