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September 27, 2009

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Endangered gorillas to get friendly on Facebook

HE'S hairy, his table manners are atrocious, and he wants to be your friend on Facebook.

No, it's not the ex-boyfriend. It's Muhozi, an endangered Ugandan mountain gorilla, who's appearing online as part of a fund-raising program the Ugandan Wildlife Authority was launching yesterday to help save the species.

Around 340 mountain gorillas - nearly half of the 740 remaining worldwide - live in Uganda's lush Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. The rest live in the Virunga mountain range, which stretches from Uganda into Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Despite their size - a male silverback can reach over 2.1 meters and weigh 180 kilograms - the gorillas are threatened by poachers who kill them for meat, farmers and charcoal-burners who encroach on their habitat, and the indiscriminate bullets of rebels on the run. They must be protected by rangers with automatic rifles.

The Wildlife Authority is hoping that fans will befriend a gorilla on Facebook or MySpace, or follow it on Twitter in return for a minimum donation of a dollar. The money will be used to hire extra rangers to protect the gorillas and safeguard their habitat.

In return, gorilla friends will receive regular updates about their chosen gorilla, be able to track their progress through global positioning systems, have their gorilla's picture on their home page and receive gorilla trivia - like the fact that the name is derived from a Greek word, gorillai, meaning "hairy women."

Wildlife Authority spokeswoman Lilian Nsubuga said she hoped the program would give people who could not afford to travel to Uganda themselves the chance to feel closer to the animals.

About 10,500 tourists visit Uganda each year to see the gorillas. An entry permit for the park is US$500 per person.

Last year Uganda earned US$600 million through tourism and over 90 percent of the money was from gorilla tourism.

"The (gorillas) are also very similar to human beings. That's what makes many people want to look at them," Nsubuga said.


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