Published: July 2008

Making Friends With Mountain Gorillas

Gorillas Stare Fossey

Making Friends With Mountain Gorillas

In remote African highlands, a daring American woman studies some of man's closest nonhuman relatives in their age-old environment.

(Originally published in the January 1970 issue of National Geographic)

By Dian Fossey
Photograph by Dian Fossey

For the past three years I have spent most of my days with wild mountain gorillas. Their home, and mine, has been the misty wooded slopes of the Virunga range, eight lofty volcanoes—the highest is 14,787 feet—shared by three African nations, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

During this time I have become well acquainted with many of the gorillas, and they with me. They roam the mountain slopes and saddles in groups, and several groups now accept my presence almost as a member. I can approach to within a few feet of them, and some, especially the juveniles and young adults, have come even closer, picked up my camera strap, and examined the buckle on my knapsack. One has even played with the laces on my boots, though I have a feeling that he did not suspect that the boots were, in fact, connected with me.

I know the gorillas as individuals, each with his own traits and personality, and, mainly for identification in my hundreds of pages of notes, I have given many of them names: Rafiki, Uncle Bert, Icarus, and so on.

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