October 17, 2005

Gorilla Scientist Says Inspired by King Kong

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The upcoming movie remake of "King Kong" might outrage some serious scientists, but one expert in gorilla conservation sees the fictional ape as an inspiration.

Patrick Mehlman is a field researcher in Rwanda and a vice president of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

He is also a King Kong fan.

"The original 'King Kong' (1933) is one of my favorite movies. I think that's one of the things that as a child got me interested in studying great apes," Mehlman said on Monday during a trip to New York for an awards ceremony.

The Dian Fossey fund, named for the woman whose groundbreaking research on gorillas was depicted in the 1988 movie "Gorillas in the Mist," is taking advantage of the December 5 premiere of "King Kong" to promote gorilla conservation.

"We are putting on a fund-raiser using King Kong as a focus," said Clare Richardson, CEO of the fund.

The film will be screened at the group's December 7 fund-raiser in Atlanta, one of several events commemorating the 20th anniversary on December 26 of Fossey's unsolved killing.

"I think it's quite useful in focusing people's attention on gorillas and great apes and how they resemble us. It can only do good things," Mehlman said just blocks from the Empire State Building, where the film reaches its climax.

Mehlman said the Virunga mountain gorilla population in Central Africa had grown to an estimated 380 from about 250 at the time of Fossey's death, while other subspecies appeared to be in decline, mostly from poaching.

Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson is attempting to make the new King Kong as authentic as possible, save for the ape's gigantic dimensions.

Actor Andy Serkis, who plays Kong with some digital enhancement, observed wild gorillas to prepare for his role, Richardson said.

"He came to find out how gorillas behave. And they have also used gorilla vocalizations that our scientists took with specialized equipment in the field," Richardson said.