Susan C. Anthony

Mountain GorillaMountain Gorillas

January 28, 1988

In the highlands of Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi live the last few families of endangered mountain gorillas. The male silverbacks are huge, reminiscent of King Kong. They lead family groups of up to 30 animals.

We paid $40 each to have guides take us in small groups into the forest to stalk the gorillas and photograph them at close range. I thought the guides would have to be expert trackers. On the contrary, wherever the gorillas had passed it looked like a bulldozer had gone through, and they left a distinctive smell in the air. The huge animals travel through the jungle ripping up and eating everything in sight.

We found them in about 15 minutes, and watched them for an hour as they ate, rested and played. For much of the time, we were no more than six feet from one or more of them. The sun was behind a cloud and my camera showed insufficient light, but I took photos anyway. A tripod would have been impossible to use on the steep slippery slopes.

The gorillas didn't seem to mind our presence. They have human visitors for an hour every morning. It was just a quiet hour on an average day with a family of gorillas.

The price seemed quite steep for Africa. We had bought our trip from an American company that promised all our entry fees were included (for which we paid quite a bit more than other people on the truck). We eventually got a partial refund. These days it costs hundreds of dollars to visit mountain gorillas. If anything can protect the species, it's that kind of potential profit for locals!

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