“One of life’s magic moments” sounds like a tired cliché, but it is an accurate description of my visit with a mountain gorilla family in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. In February, I joined Wild Earth Allies on a special journey to Rwanda for the extraordinary opportunity to meet these gorillas and learn about great ape conservation work in the region.
It is an exhilarating and profoundly intimate experience when you see mountain gorillas in their natural environment, and feel that undeniable connection and familiarity. You are not observing animals, but visiting a distant relative’s family whose behavior, mannerisms, hands, and even expressions are very similar to our own. It is not surprising that they share 98 percent of our DNA.
Mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
This trip was especially rewarding because I also received a fuller understanding of their story. I met some inspiring people who have dedicated their lives to protecting these rare and remarkable creatures and developed a model program where the gorillas are thriving. Their population is growing and local people living adjacent to the park are benefiting from the tourist economy. Conservationist and entrepreneur, Eugène Rutagarama, is to be commended for his excellent work in this area.
However, the story is not finished. I also had the privilege of meeting Dr. Augustin Basabose, founder and executive director of the organization Primate Expertise in Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas have a plummeting population and lack the infrastructure and support that is available in Rwanda. Dr. Basabose (in partnership with Wild Earth Allies) is developing creative ways to support community-based conservation through education and entrepreneurship, since local people are the key to developing solutions for protecting wildlife.
Left to right: Eugène Rutagarama with rangers; The author, Anita Winsor, viewing mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park; Dr. Augustin Basabose;
This remarkable trip reflected such depth of engagement over many years for Wild Earth Allies and a network of partners – a hallmark of the collaborative way this special organization works. Our personalized itinerary gave us a behind-the-scenes and unforgettable glimpse of the majesty of wildlife and wild places and their need for our involvement and investment in their protection.
Left: The author, Anita Winsor, (left) and Wild Earth Allies Executive Director Katie Frohardt (second from right) enjoy roasted potatoes with local kids; Right: Mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park
Anita Winsor is a Wild Earth Allies Board Member.