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Actress Natalie Portman has teamed up with wildlife expert Jack Hanna to make a TV special on the plight of gorillas in Rwanda.

The hour-long documentary, called Gorillas On The Brink, will go to air on the Animal Planet channel on October 26, and will feature the pair as they travel deep into the jungles of the Congo’s Virunga National Park in search of the endangered Mountain Gorilla.

The documentary follows the 26 year old star’s appearance at a gorilla naming ceremony held in Rwanda in July, in which a host of celebrities gathered to name 23 baby gorillas at a Rwandan wildlife sanctuary to raise awareness of the species’ possible extinction. Portman named her gorilla Ahazaza, which means “Future” in the native Rwandan language. Another was named in the memory of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who was planning a trip to the African nation before being killed by a stingray while filming a documentary at the Great Barrier Reef in September 2006. His gorilla was named Ingufu, which means “Strength”.

According to figures published by the WWF, there are only 700 Mountain Gorillas left in the world, and just over half of these live around the lush Virunga volcanoes that straddle Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their populations are being decimated by conflict and poaching, although the efforts of several conservation organizations, such as the African Conservation Program and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, are trying to reverse this.

“This is one of the biggest conservation efforts in the world,” said Jack Hanna.

The plight of Rwanda’s Mountain Gorillas first rose to the public’s attention after the 1988 film, Gorillas In The Mist, based on the book of the same name by famed gorilla conservationist, Dian Fossey. They have now become a tourist attraction for the war-stricken nation, although they are still at risk from fighting militias. Visitors pay up to $500 to gain access to the Virunga National Park, and the nation earned $36 million from tourism in 2006. The Government aims to raise $100 million per year from gorilla tourism by 2010.

“We have every good reason to celebrate these gorillas,” said Rosette Rugamba, Director General of the Rwanda Tourism Centre. “The benefits they have brought to our country and people speak volumes.”

Natalie Portman is not the only celebrity involved in the conservation of this unique species. New Zealand-born supermodel and patron of the Born Free Foundation, Rachel Hunter, has also launched a desperate plea to save the animals.

“I am not afraid to say I wept when I saw pictures of the shot gorillas,” she said in a double page advert in Britain’s The Sun newspaper following the publication of gruesome photos of gorillas being slaughtered by poachers. “Charities that work in the area have got together to fund round-the-clock patrols by park rangers for the next three months, but they need more funding to carry on. This is absolutely vital.”

The screening schedule for Gorillas On The Brink can be viewed at http://animal.discovery.com, and more information on the plight of the gorillas, including the very latest news from Rwanda, can be found at www.rwanda-gorillas.com.

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