CNN Senior Photojournalist
Today I got to come up close to something not many people have seen before, at least in the wild that is. I’m in Rwanda with the PIP team in a town call Ruhengeri. Its 6am, misty, cold, and pouring with rain, but I’m excited for today’s shoot. We’re here for Planet in Peril: Battle Lines and we are here to come face to face with Mountain Gorillas.
Filming wildlife is something new to me. Working with Anderson/CNN I have gotten close to guerrillas of a different kind but this is going to be a welcome experience.
There are only 720 in mountain gorillas in the world, 380 of which are situated in Virunga Mountains which border Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. We have to trek for hours to get to see them. So far, the journey has involved a 4 wheel drive vehicle to get up steep mountain roads, walking over rough terrain, wading through rivers (or more like falling into). By the way, not something I want to do carrying 40lbs worth of expensive camera equipment whilst negotiating the jungle.
On the way, our guide François shows us exactly what the gorillas eat - a concoction of various plants, added to bamboo. In fact, we are not just shown; I actually give it a try. I have to say it’s absolutely disgusting. I guess you have to try everything once. As repulsive as it is, I can’t spit it out because the rangers were worried about the possibility of diseases to the gorillas. There are rules and regulations to follow if you want to undertake this journey since the Mountain Gorillas are fiercely protected here now, unlike in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Francois explains to us old how intoxicating bamboo shoots could be. Apparently 10 bamboo shoots = 1 beer and 100 bamboo shoots = 1 whisky. After tasting it, I think I’m going to stick to my gin and tonic.
Our trackers take us next on an exhausting route through the dense bamboo. I literally have to fight through. Resulting in being spiked, poked, and cut by the vegetation.
Suddenly Francois makes these noises as if he were a gorilla. He is supposedly asking the silver back, which is the head male of the family, if we can approach the group. I start rolling. They’re supposedly close, very close.
Suddenly I see something move through in my viewfinder. It’s sometimes hard to distinguish things in black and white. We are just feet away from a member of the family. More appear...I can’t believe I am so close to them. We are watching a family of gorillas known as group 13. It’s a family of 23 gorillas, the largest and the leader of the group is a silverback called Agasha. Boy, is he huge.
They seem to have no problem with us filming. We get to film them for about an hour, a remarkable experience to be so close to something in the wild. Alas we then have to take the ardous trek down to civilization-well sort of!
Filed under: Planet in Peril
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