A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Visiting the Gorillas

Being in Their World

By Regina Yando

The gorillas are relatively curious and some will come out. One little one was probably 4 or 5 months old and it would sort of approach me and then pull back and go touch Mommy — just like a 2-year-old kid would. He got really close. Didn’t come and touch me, but almost, and then mother got a little bit excited, started hooing and hawing, so he went back.

I was standing at one point, when all of a sudden two adolescents were chasing each other. One ran behind me and whacked me on my butt, which was exciting. (Remember, you don’t approach the gorillas yourself. You’re just standing there.)
Our guide had told us about a woman who had some kind of noisy camera and she was clicking away, and it was bothering the gorillas. The tracker told her to stop but she didn’t. So the silverback just came up and grabbed the camera and smashed it. You’re in their territory. If they need to, they’ll teach you how to behave there.

The group we were visiting had a big silverback who was quite old, and not well. He was lying in his nest and the younger silverback was prancing all over the place. (According to the tracker, there was the possibility of a take-over in terms of this particular silverback.) Anyway, he was sitting and preening himself and we came in, sort of in front of him. We were taking some shots. My husband moved to the right of me, maybe by two feet. And all of a sudden … I mean really fast … these are big animals … it’s amazing to see how fast they can move … this silverback jumped up and came charging toward us. The next thing I knew, he had picked my husband, John, up and literally just plopped him down behind me. He took John’s two front arms and picked him up like you would pick up a pillow, a heavy pillow. The arms went around him. Not totally around him, but just on the sides. Just lifted him right up and plopped him down. He didn’t hurt him at all. John wasn’t even bruised.

It happened so fast that we were like “Ohmigod.”

What had happened was that, unbeknownst to us, his nest was behind us. And John had stepped in front of his nest, not meaning to. He had turned when he did it, so that when the gorilla picked him up, his back was to the gorilla. He didn’t know. He had no idea what happened. The tracker picked him up off the ground. It was clear the silverback had no intentions of hurting him; he just didn’t want him to go to his nest, which I guess he assumed was going to happen because he then went over, plopped in his nest, grunted, pulled out some bamboo stuff that he was eating and just sort of looked up like “This is mine.”

We’ve heard of no cases where they’ve hurt anyone. But the groups that you go to see have been getting to know the trackers for around four years before they let anyone else near them.

And there are also researchers who go in there, too. Virunga has a team of researchers that have been following up on Dian Fossey’s work.