email a friend iconprinter friendly iconMaking Friends With Mountain Gorillas
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Although my old camp was only five miles away, I was to find that the Rwandese gorillas had been so harassed by poachers and cattle grazers that they rejected all my initial attempts at contact. It was in Rwanda, after 19 months of work, that the second interruption came. But unlike the first, it was to prove highly valuable to my study.

Piteous Cries From a Playpen Prisoner

Its beginning is still vivid in my mind—a misty morning in February as I walk up a slippery elephant track of mud that serves as the main trail between the nearest Rwanda village and my gorilla observation camp at 10,000 feet on Mount Visoke. Behind me, porters carry a child’s playpen, its top boarded over. From the playpen comes a wailing which grows louder and more piteous with each step we take. It sounds distressingly like the cry of a human baby.

Helpers Move a Forest Indoors

The chilling fog swirls a tag game in and out of the great trees; yet the faces of the porters drip sweat after the four hours of hard climbing since leaving the Land-Rover at the base of the mountain. Camp is indeed a welcome sight, and the three Africans who comprise my staff come running out to greet us.

The previous day I had sent them a frantic SOS asking them to convert one of the two rooms of my cabin into a forest. To ruin a room by bringing in trees, vines, and other foliage had seemed to them sheer nonsense, but they were used to my strange requests.

Chumba tayari,” they now call, telling me the room is all ready. Then, with many screams and orders in Kinyarwanda, Rwanda’s national language, they wedge the playpen through the doors of the cabin and deposit it amid the trees that sprout between the floor boards.

Now I pry off the top boards of the playpen and stand back. Two little hands appear from the inside of the box to grip the edges, and slowly the baby pulls himself up. His large brown eyes gaze about the room that is to be his home for the next 68 days. They blink at the sight of familiar mountain vegetation left behind so unwillingly when he was captured almost a month previously.

Then the small black bundle leaps into a pile of nesting material. Hands beat upon the foliage in excitement. But enough of that, there’s a tree to climb! Up he goes, hand over hand, until he reaches the ceiling—certainly an unusual way for a tree to end!

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