Video: The last mountain gorillas, and their protectors

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There are about 720 mountain gorillas left in the world. Two hundred and eleven of them live in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. (The others are in Rwanda and Uganda.)

The job of protecting them falls to the Congolese Wildlife Authority, and a tough, dangerous job it is. More than 120 of the authority's rangers in Virunga National Park have been killed in the past 10 years, writes staff reporter Matthew Clark in a fascinating article in the May 17 issue of the Monitor's new print weekly.

Among the ever-present threats, he writes: "Militias hide out in the park’s dense foliage, looting nearby villages, pillaging gold mines, and controlling the multimillion-dollar trade in charcoal made by peasants who chop down virgin forest in the park."

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It's hard to imagine why anyone would want a job like that. The answer is simple, says Innocent Mburanumwe, the ranger in charge of gorilla monitoring for the wildlife authority: "... we choose to protect nature. That’s our job. The gorillas are rare. I don’t want them to disappear like the dinosaurs.”

Mountain gorillas definitely have a friend and strong protector in Mr. Mburanumwe, as shown in the video accompanying this post. It was shot by Monitor staff photographer Mary Knox Merrill.

Here's Mary Knox's story of taking the video:

The entire hike into and out Virunga National Park lasted six hours. Matt and I walked with Innocent, a second park ranger, and a tracker for an hour along the ridge of the forest and through local villages. Then it took another two hours hiking into the park before we spotted the gorillas. I doubt we covered much ground, despite the length of time that lapsed, because we climbed through incredibly thick brush, using a machete to make our way through.
We knew we would have less than an hour with the gorillas and that we’d have to work fast. I was carrying two cameras, and Matt was carrying the video camera. We first came up on two juveniles, lounging and eating. And then one of the rangers spotted the silverback, mother, and 5-day-old baby. We spent most of our time with them, and they were absolutely amazing.
We were able to get extremely close without the silverback getting too upset. He was protective of the baby, and after 10 minutes he nudged the mother to leave. Then the silverback lay down on his back while Innocent took observation notes.
We later filmed/photographed other juveniles (they were the most playful, swinging on vines, eating, etc.), another female, and an older male (or black-back).
Overall, it was a surreal experience. I knew I would probably never again see gorillas in their natural habitat, much less approach them within arm's length. I tried to soak it all in, containing my excitement to concentrate on filming/photographing. It was a challenge in terms of exposure – bright sunlight piercing through dark canopies of vines and thick brush. But they were such great subjects, undeterred by our presence. What a rush!

And that's the way this video – and print article – will make you feel, too.

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