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In the Midst of Gorillas

Face to face with nature in Rwanda



 



Against the backdrop of mist and eucalyptus trees, just before we set off to see the gorillas of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, locals performed a tribal musical evocation.
 

The base of an inactive volcano rose up just beyond, disappearing into the low-hanging, fast-moving clouds. Rain or shine, we would soon be traversing that volcano in search of the Sabyinyo family, a group of 14 mountain gorillas led by a massive male named Guhonda. The Sabyinyo family is one of 18 families of mountain gorillas, first immortalized by Dian Fossey some 45 years ago, that call the dense rainforest of the East African Virunga mountain range their home.

To reach our gorilla family, we weaved along a path cut through narrow stone walls designed to keep Volcanoes’ buffalos in the park and out of the local potato farms. As soon as we picked up the trail, my foot sank immediately into six inches of black sludge. The thick mud sucked at my boots as I extracted my foot again and again, making my way up the steep incline on the seemingly interminable hike.

The forest canopy was no match for raindrops that cut through the trees, beating a deafening rhythm on the hood of my rain suit. Soon the so-called trail more accurately resembled a quagmire or small river. A tracker just in front of us chopped away hanging vines and brush with a machete, creating a crude path through the bamboo and stinging nettles. As we’d been promised, getting to the gorillas wouldn’t be easy, but the experience would ultimately be well worth it. I hoped so.

As a child, my favorite toy was a tiny plastic gorilla. My parents, when tired of my 2-year-old babble, would send me on a hunt for my beloved figurine. Were it not to be found, my dad (fearing meltdowns, and unbeknownst to me) had a stash of these little toys, inexhaustibly producing a new one any time a gorilla happened to disappear.

This has not been the case for the African gorilla. In 1980, while I was looking for my toy gorilla, poachers were combing the Virungas hunting the real deal, and succeeding in their quest. According to a 1978 census, these breathtaking creatures had dwindled to a mere 260. Without a massive push for awareness and action, they were on the verge of vanishing from the planet forever.


Fortunately, the gorillas have not vanished, but thrived. For more than 30 years, massive conservation efforts by various national and international entities have protected the gorilla and his habitat. Activists have tracked gorillas’ behavior in the park, working with local Rwandans to demonstrate that the park is more valuable in its natural state, generating tourist dollars, than it would be if the forest was cut down and used for farmland and firewood.

Permits to go tracking, which usually are purchased months in advance, are $750. Groups are limited to six people, and each group visits one of 10 habituated families of mountain gorillas. The challenging hikes take anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours. Once with the gorillas, visitors spend one hour before returning. Weather, as I quickly learned, can be difficult, especially during the rainy season. And rain or shine, gorilla sighting or not (although almost everyone sees the gorillas), there are no refunds.

Our guide Feliciens brings us to a halt. After a little more than an hour, we have come to the gorillas. The silverback, he had explained, will either grunt, giving us permission to “join” them, or respond with an aggressive “ah-ah-ah-ah,” suggesting that we stay back, they are busy.

At a whisper barely audible over the pounding rain, Feliciens explained that on sunny days, the young gorillas are playful, often intoxicated by fermented celery root. They are curious and often try to play with humans. The experience is typically an intimate one. We are to give the gorillas only a few yards of personal space, and while we must honor their space, they do not have to honor ours.


We push through thick bamboo and come to a clearing. There, I see the face of a massive silverback no more than 10 feet from me on the other side of some brush. His deep black eyes catch mine. The guide grunts twice and we wait. The moment hangs … and finally the silverback, as we’d hoped, parrots back the grunt. With his permission, I enter his world.

Nonchalant, he chews the leaves off of some foliage. We can hear his breath. Behind him, branches crash as other members of the Sabyinyo family forage for food. A mother sits lost in thought while her baby, the newest of the group, nurses. The rain drenches us one last time and then stops. As it does, so does time.

Ultimately, we spend an hour in that little clearing – watching the beasts shake off the rain, roll around, groom, yawn, burp and stretch. It is peaceful. It is terrifying. Occasionally Guhonda grunts. “He wants us to know that it is OK that we are here,” Feliciens explains.

At one point, one of the males approaches me. I fumble with my camera as he gets close. With my hands shaking and lens fogging up, I can’t get a picture, but I need no photo to immortalize this moment. I am simply a kid in a toy box who finally found his gorilla.

Our car waits for us in a small village on the edge of the park. Outside a tiny building, several young kids sell hand-carved gorillas. I lift one of them and think of how my father had always managed to make another appear. Thanks to the hard work of so many conservationists, environmentalists and politicians, the real gorillas seem to be doing the same thing. At first I buy just one, then think about my nephews and the child I may one day have, and buy more. Many more. 

 

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Calendar

July 2019

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Show More...
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A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

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Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Our summer series is geared toward teaching printmaking in the classroom. Each Tuesday night from 5:30-8 p.m., we will show several different ways to approach 4 printmaking styles. You...

Cost: $75

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405.815.9995
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s Nesbitt Gallery will feature painter William Stoehr’s powerful portraits in “Victims, Witnesses, and Survivors.” The gallery...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Nesbitt Gallery
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: Nesbitt Gallery
Telephone: 405.574.1374
Contact Name: Layne Thrift
Website »

More information

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Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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Wheeler Ferris Wheel
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Oklahoma City, OK  73109
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More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel, and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma...

Cost: Adults $20; Seniors and Children $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

A nationally touring exhibit “Bison: Ancient. Massive. Wild.” will open May 24 at the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK. This exhibit explores the significance of...

Cost: $4 - $6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Join Wendy Fox as she leads the Stab Binding Workshop in the PRESS at Untitled. A stab bound book has no signatures. It is a book that consists of flat pages, and a front and back cover...

Cost: $50

Where:
ARTSPACE at Untitled
1 NE 3rd St
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Sponsor: ARTSPACE at Untitled
Telephone: 405-815-9995
Contact Name: Laura Warriner
Website »

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America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
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View map »


Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel, and quite possibly an amazing Oklahoma...

Cost: Adults $20; Seniors and Children $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Fresh off of the release of their latest album, Bay Faction is on tour from Brooklyn, NY. Florida Guilt is the debut album by New York-based trio Bay Faction (comprised of James McDermott,...

Cost: $12

Where:
Opolis
113 North Crawford
Norman, OK  73069
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Sponsor: IBGYBG Entertainment LLC
Telephone: 617.780.0498
Contact Name: James McDermott
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