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Animatronic mountain gorilla on Trafalgar Square sets social media abuzz

Animatronic mountain gorilla on Trafalgar Square sets social media abuzz

On February 2, a “mountain gorilla” set social media abuzz by camping at London’s Trafalgar Square grounds. This was perhaps the next big thing since the “Battle of Trafalgar” in 1805.

In reality, the gorilla was a human being suited as and trained to mimic the endangered mountain gorilla named Bakwate. Fitted with a remotely-controlled animatronic head, Bakwate spent two hours in Trafalgar Square during four half-hour shifts from 10:30 pm to 3:30 pm before a scheduled appearance at The Destinations Travel Show at London Olympia, which runs until Sunday.

A spokeswoman for Kamageo, a U.K.-based marketing firm representing the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) said: “To highlight that Uganda is the best place on the planet to see these amazing creatures, we’ll be introducing our gorilla to the public on the northern edge of the square in front of the National Gallery. This will no doubt give some lucky individuals the opportunity to create their own ‘David Attenborough moment’ with some iconic British structures in the background.” Indeed, the stunt paid off as crowds were rushing to take and post selfies with the gentle giant who was happy to chomp generous offerings of bananas in return.

Edwin Muzahura, Head of Marketing for UTB, said: “UTB is working with the Uganda High Commission in London to rebrand the square and probably have another event this summer. We hope to have a mega exhibition in the Square exhibiting Ugandan dance, food, folk, and culture besides the animals and great scenery.”

Strategically located at 58-59 Trafalgar Square, the Uganda High Commission is in the heart of London’s center of activity from the busy Charring Cross and Bakerloo train stations, cultural celebrations, commercial events, rallies and demonstrations, filming, and photographic shoots.

At the peak of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, a similar campaign was done by PHG Consulting, UTB’s public representative for the North America market, whereby images of the gorilla baby boom in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park beamed on Reuter’s billboard in New York City’s Times Square.

Previously, the year 2009 was declared the “Year of the Gorilla” whereby a gorilla online sponsorship campaign that incidentally is still running, dubbed the “Friend a Gorilla Campaign,” was launched. Hollywood stars, Jason Biggs, Kristy Wu, and Simon Curtis, led the campaign in Uganda and the U.S.A. to create awareness on the endangered mountain morillas. They also produced a short film that was launched in Los Angeles in December of the same year.

Contrary to popular belief, Hollywood has created a monstrous image of the gorilla since the 1930s blockbuster, “King Kong.” Gorillas are in fact gentle giants as portrayed by Bakwate. Apart from chimpanzees, they are our closest living relatives with only a2 percent genetic difference between us. They are among the world’s great apes, and studies of fossils, genes, physiology, and behavior have revealed just how recently our shared lineage divided. Gorillas are complex, highly-intelligent apes besieged by threats on all sides, including poachers, diseases, and confined to a dwindling habitat that is in constant danger of being further eroded.

Gorilla permits cost US$600 per person (ranger guide and permit only) in the high season for foreign non-residents, US$500 for foreign residents, and UGX250,000 for East Africans in the high season, with up to a 25 percent discount for foreigners and 60% for East Africans during the low season months of May and November.

These fees are also vital to the survival of these endangered species including other plants, birds, insects, and life forms, as well as their afro-montane habitat, not forgetting the surrounding communities, especially the hunter-gatherer Batwa tribe which initially shared the forest and cave habitats with the gorillas, but since 1993 has had to adapt to alternative livelihoods.

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