December 4, 2018
The Making of Memories
- as seen by -George Amato
I was sitting in the damp soil of a nearly vertical hillside watching a family group of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), when I made eye contact with this adult male. Still breathing heavily from the steep and slippery hike into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, I was overwhelmed with the emotions generated by observing gorillas in such close proximity while sharing their beautiful forest environment. A familiar smell filled the air that seems to accompany these critically endangered herbivores reminiscent of freshly mowed wet grass – both sweet and musty.
While we looked into each other’s eyes, my mind drifted back to 30 years ago when I had first joined the New York Zoological Society (now WCS) as a young scientist. At my first meeting with the small group of NYZS researchers that made up the Wildlife Conservation International Program, I was beyond thrilled to meet my new colleague George Schaller. Like so many others, I had grown up reading Schaller’s books and articles on wildlife and conservation. We spent time talking about the many projects we could work on together. What I remember most was Schaller saying offhandedly “you really need to go see mountain gorillas.” It had seemed like an impossible childhood dream.
As I continued to watch the gorilla, I wondered if he might also be remembering a time from long ago —perhaps when he first saw eco-tourists or some other remarkable event in his life. What I was sure about was how much I valued sharing a special moment on the hillside with this exceptional animal. And, how mountain gorilla conservation programs have been truly one of the great success stories thanks to the dedication of local communities, governments, and conservationists worldwide.