September 23, 2019
World Gorilla Day
- as seen by -Natalie Cash
“One of the great wildlife experiences one can have is to look a wild gorilla in the eyes.” – George Schaller
In September 2018, my colleague Jeff Morey and I traveled to the Republic of Congo to produce two short films – one commemorating the 25th anniversary of Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, a dazzlingly biodiverse park in northern Congo that the Wildlife Conservation Society supported the Congolese government in establishing, and for which the government signed a partnership agreement 20 years later delegating management authority to WCS; and another for the 20th anniversary of the Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest, a landmark exhibit that allows visitors to donate their admission fees to protect wildlife and wild places in Central Africa.
But none of the reasons why we were there mattered to Buka (above), one of two silverbacks of western lowland gorilla troops habituated to the presence of humans at WCS’s Mondika Gorilla Project. The Mondika trackers had swiftly and silently clipped a hole through a wall of dense vegetation just wide enough for us to squeeze into with our cameras when we suddenly found ourselves directly underneath the branch Buka was sitting on. Safety distance for contact with wild apes is seven meters, or about 20 feet, and we didn’t have an inch to spare. Buka stared us directly in our eyes at the intrusion but did not move away. Secure in his dominion over us, he ate slowly and deliberately, occasionally giving a low rumble if he detected any sudden movement. Marveling at the unobstructed view we had, we burned through our memory cards, filling our cameras with the memory of this magnificent animal.
This World Gorilla Day, I think of the troops of western lowland gorillas both in Mondika and here at the Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest that have inspired millions of visitors to contribute more than $10 million dollars to the species’ survival in these perilous times. And I am thankful to work for an organization whose conservation efforts both here in New York and across Central Africa ensure we will celebrate World Gorilla Day for generations to come.