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June 30th, 2008
07:51 PM ET

Face to face with gentle giants

Naomi Schwartz
National Geographic Television

I didn’t think it would be this easy.

I mean, in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t, you know, easy easy.

Getting here required repeated negotiations with high-level contacts in rebel General Laurent Nkunda’s army, and then with the general himself.

It required driving an hour and a half outside the city to a UN base in the foothills of the Mikeno volcano, followed by an hour’s steep hike to the rebel base farther up the volcano.

And it required another hour-plus hike just after dawn to get to the edge of the national park. All while being hurried along by rebel soldiers with big guns and spears who were terrified we’d miss our chance.

But then the overgrown fields ended abruptly in a shock of thick forest, and here we are. And there they are.

An entire family of mountain gorillas. Just hanging out, in the trees, and in the brush beneath them.

They look exactly like gorillas.

It feels completely unreal.

Their black fur contrasts starkly with the bright green foliage, and yet recedes into the dark shadows of the dense forest...

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Filed under: Planet in Peril
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Becca

    I feel in love with great apes a long time ago (I'm only 21, so it wasn't THAT long ago), but I love that you're covering these gentle giants. I loved every special I've seen about bonobos and saving chimps.

    These animals are truly amazing and deserve our attention.

    July 1, 2008 at 6:00 am |
  2. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    so much power.

    so much peace.

    So much pain.

    That is what this picture says to me.

    July 1, 2008 at 1:01 am |
  3. Rob Bushway

    I certainly understand calling this "killing", but I don't understand calling it "murder" . Murder involves killing another human, not an animal.

    June 30, 2008 at 11:50 pm |
  4. Jolene

    Naomi: It's amazing that with all these animals have been through, they still trust humans enough to just walk on by..... Enjoyed reading your experience. Thanks for sharing it.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    June 30, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  5. Annie Kate

    I read through the National Geographic article about the gorillas in the July issue that came today. IT was fascinating and it took a lot of courage to do what these men did. Such wonderful pictures of the gorillas and it was good to read that the gorillas in the Congo were doing well and being protected.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 30, 2008 at 9:40 pm |
  6. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    These magnificent animals have always had a place in my heart. It is so terribly devastating to see these innocent creatures used as political pawns by all of these warring forces.

    Everyone should read Mark Jenkins' extensive and thorough article about these murders and the politics behind them in the July issue of "National Geographic." Besides the breathtaking photos by Brent Stirton, it includes a map of the area and information about those involved. Also the "National Geographic" website has a video and a photo gallery in connection with the cover story.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    June 30, 2008 at 9:17 pm |
  7. Minou, New York City

    The "fake" rangers that took the author to the gorillas, also take tourists to see them. That is very dangerous for the animals, since those fake guides don't adhere to the carefully established rules , f.e. the distance needed to be held to the gorillas, the amount of people they take up to see them, the length of time visitors are allowed with them, etc.

    I hope tourists will be made aware of the problem of the phony rangers, and that they will not go with them, despite probably saving money. I'm trusting that tourists who come all the way to this part of the world to see the gorillas, do care about the animals, and would not knowingly do anything to harm them.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm |
  8. raemonde

    I was in Uganda and Rwanda last September / October. I went on 9 gorilla treks. It was the absolute greatest experience of my life.
    The mountain gorillas are incredible gentle giants. The young gorillas play all the time. Since i've been back home i look at babies and young kids differently....i see gorillas instead of children because they act the same way....seriously. Same with chimpanzees. We need to do everything we can for the conservation of these magnificent species,the lowland and mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees!

    June 30, 2008 at 8:43 pm |
  9. Maritza

    Naomi,

    You are fortunate to have experienced first hand these precious animals, I can only imagine what it must be like , have to settle for my local zoo , I think it is becoming so much more of an issue of how much they depend on us to protect their survival, it is critical when 5 innocent gorillas are shot , an entire family, thank you for this very important post and dedication to these beautiful creatures, I hope Anderson's feature tonight will bring light and justice for these rare and unique animals.

    Maritza

    June 30, 2008 at 8:31 pm |
  10. olga in

    hi everybody ,
    nice report i just buy the national geographic magazine because i want to read the story about the gorilla ! listen i have nothing against Gorilla but i am very concerne about the intention you give them ! you been there ,did you see how people are living how life is very difficult for them ! how can you look away and put you effort and energy to Gorilla . i don t undersand and for worse you give to much power to the General Nkunda ! do you know this guy what he did !! i don t think so ! now you talking about Murdered gorilla mystery do you killing me ! Maybe here in USA and Canada people care about those Gorilla but in Congo, Rwanda and Burundi we don t care about it because life is worse that those Gorilla !!!!!!!
    Anyway thank you for the report even i know my message is not going to be post but i have to say how i feel about the whole story .
    i will watching AC 360 tonight.
    Oga In from Montreal

    June 30, 2008 at 8:26 pm |
  11. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    How cool to be so close! The potential danger would definitely be worth it all... Glad you are reporting the realities over there. The world really needs to know the whole story.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  12. Lilibeth

    I got goose bumps as I was reading your post, Naomi! What a close encounter you had! Sounds scary but exhilarating at the same time! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    I hope through your work that these mountain gorillas will be saved. Thank you for all you do.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    June 30, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  13. Cindy

    It must be awesome to just sit with the gorillas in their natural habitat and just watch them. Too bad that their habitat is being encroached upon and they are in danger of being killed for the trees.

    Cindy...Ga.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  14. Tracey - Boston

    Wow. I thought they could come up to you. Good idea about the seven meter rule.

    June 30, 2008 at 7:59 pm |