June 6th, 2008
06:18 PM ET

Discovered... by the rare Mountain Gorilla

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/09/art.neilhallsworth.jpg]

Neil Hallsworth
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
soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Ann

    Great story.....thanks!

    June 8, 2008 at 9:06 pm |
  2. Victor in Saanich, B.C. Canada

    No surprise that so much can be learned from the creatures of mother nature. Our's is a destructive group and they attempt to survive. The death of our planet rests with overpopulation, consumerism and pollution. With all the green 'jawboning' from our politicos the future is indeed bleak!! The chasm below us is ever deepening.

    June 8, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  3. Paula Kahumbu

    Wondeful. I hope you will be there for the gorilla naming ceremony? Anderson Cooper could lead a global movement to save mountain gorillas.

    June 7, 2008 at 2:31 am |
  4. Megan Dresslar

    Hi Neil!
    Awesome! I am forward to see your program Planet in Peril soon! Thanks for sharing with me...... I love this program.... Yes, Anderson is staying in New York........ I can't wait see 2 gorillas in your program! Thanks Neil!
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, WA

    June 7, 2008 at 1:39 am |
  5. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Hi Neil,
    So you couldn't spit, for the possible health sake of the gorillas? Perhaps the baseball league could follow that good logic.
    I look forward to the PIP 2. It sounds like it will be well worth the wait.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    June 6, 2008 at 9:52 pm |
  6. Annie Kate


    How lucky you are to have seen these gorillas. Even though it was a tiring challenging trek into their territory, I bet you forgot about all that as soon as you started filming those gorillas. I'm looking forward to seeing the footage and I hope that the long walk back was a little easier on you. At least going back you knew better than to try their food again!

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 6, 2008 at 9:48 pm |
  7. Minou, New York City

    Wow! Enjoy that trip and give Agasha a bamboo shoot from me.
    Can't wait to see the footage.
    I bet Anderson is green with envy that he's still here in NY.

    June 6, 2008 at 9:01 pm |
  8. Lilibeth

    Hi Neil,

    Sounds like you have a gin and tonic theme going on on this trip...LOL!

    It’s great that you have a guide like Francois who seems to be able to communicate with the gorillas. How exciting it is, to be up-close to them.

    I envy that you have the opportunity to get to do this PIP gig. I know you get spiked, poked, and cut along the way, but I bet it’s all worth it. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

    Take care, Neil, and take it easy on those gin and tonics...LOL!

    Edmonds, Washington

    June 6, 2008 at 8:24 pm |
  9. Michele, Oregon

    A new meaning to the word "bamboozled"!!
    Am sure we share a good percentage of our genes with the gorillas. We share 98% with chimpanzees, 50% with dogs, and even share genes with daffodils! A bit of God's creation linking all of us and your programs are calling us to be good stewards. Thank you. Am looking forward to Planet in Peril 2.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  10. Jo Ann

    Dear Neil,

    What a wonderful experience for you! Anderson has described visiting the mountain gorillas as being an “intimate" experience; it must be even more intimate when you are looking at them through the lens of a camera. I have to admit that I am a little envious.

    I am sure that when you saw Agasha and his group you realized that the struggle to get there was well worth the effort! I cannot wait to see what you have filmed; I hope we will get a sneak peak before the fall!

    It would be nice to see Anderson with the mountain gorillas again; he seems to really enjoy those visits and we love seeing him with them!

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    June 6, 2008 at 8:15 pm |
  11. Katie

    Neil, I can't tell you how jealous I am of that experience! It's on my list of top ten things in life I want to do. I hope you enjoyed it for me. I am in Iowa and we have the Great Ape Trust here. It's an amazing place and the purpose is to provide sanctuary, study theintelligence and advance the conservation of great apes. It's an incredible place to visit, but would not compare to seeing them in the wild. By the way...it's a beautiful day here and I had a gin & tonic on the deck in your honor.

    June 6, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  12. Pamina

    What beautiful animals! You are lucky to be able to see them so close and in the wild. What was the silverback like? Did he try to show you "who is boss"? I can't wait to see your next installment this fall, unless Anderson shows it sooner! Take care and safe travels.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:56 pm |
  13. Stacey

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Neil.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:43 pm |
  14. Janna

    Gorgeous photograph, Neil! Glad you're getting the chance to work with a more peaceful and inspiring subject. What a facinating blog today...Please keep them coming 🙂

    June 6, 2008 at 7:33 pm |
  15. Max, Dallas, TX

    Neil, your trek sounds worth it! I can't wait to see the amazing footage.
    Thanks so much for what you're doing.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:07 pm |
  16. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    How amazing that has to be! Wow. I am a bit jealous. I think observing gorillas in their world has to be of the coolest God really does exist moments in this life. It's also good to know lots of bamboo can work as a booze substitute if needed. I learned something new a few moments ago. Think I'll stick with Diet Coke and lime, though.

    June 6, 2008 at 7:01 pm |
  17. Maritza

    The picture is worth as the say a thousand words , too precious , man ,are you lucky , Their beauty , intelligence and range of emotions is amazing, We must continue to do everything we can to protect, and preserve them in the wild by way of reporting their plight. When I go to the zoo I can't seem to leave want to leave, they have a very peaceful energy about them, the picture made my day. thanks for this very special report.


    June 6, 2008 at 6:51 pm |
  18. Kent Fitzsimmons,Illinois

    It would be funny to see Anderson eat the bamboo..........lol.

    I'm glad they care about the Gorillas there. They are beautiful..............

    June 6, 2008 at 6:50 pm |
  19. Cindy

    AWW..Neil...you are so very lucky to get to go and not only see the mountain gorillas but to be able to tape them. I bet that was amazing! I bet the strenuous trek up there was well worth it once you got to be with them for the hour. I hope that Anderson will be joining you soon and we get to see some of your footage! Stay safe ...and I hope that you continue adding posts. Love hearing from you.


    June 6, 2008 at 6:49 pm |
  20. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Neil!
    How exciting! Thanks for filming the Mountain Gorillas for us. How depressing they are diminishing!
    Be careful about getting poked and proded so much~
    If I were you, I'd try a margarita, heavy on the tequilla. If you like, I would post my recipe as I make the best margs in Texas.
    And. . . that is a very good thing. ;-D
    Thanks for the blog and BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!!!

    June 6, 2008 at 6:49 pm |
  21. Chris in Sarasota

    I cannot wait to see PIP2. Your story is enthralling!

    June 6, 2008 at 6:45 pm |
  22. Megan O. Toronto, ON, Canada

    Wow Neil you are so lucky to have seen the family of gorillas. Can't wait to see the footage

    June 6, 2008 at 6:22 pm |