Reporters on the Job

Gorilla Watch:To see the gorillas at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, correspondent Mike Pflanz stayed overnight with rangers in a hut in Bukima, then hiked four hours to the edge of the park and into the jungle. Almost immediately, he and his party saw a family of 32 gorillas (see story).

"We first saw a half-dozen adolescent gorillas in a tree – they came crashing down and ran. Then we saw this huge silverback leader, who clearly was annoyed at our presence," Mike says. "He charged at us three times from about 18 feet away, coming within six feet of us, screaming and up on his legs. It was very frightening."

That made it hard to repress the instinct to run away. That's when the group had the opportunity to show what they'd learned about gorilla anger-management. They responded as instructed: by crouching down and averting their eyes. "After we did this, he stopped and turned around. If you crouch as he tries to intimidate you, he wins."

Some moments were more lighthearted. "We followed them for 20 minutes as they patrolled. At one point, some were behind us. One ran up and hit photographer Georgina Cranston on the backside," Mike says. "He was showing who was boss – and being quite cheeky."

Mike says that certain rules govern the interactions with gorillas: keeping a distance of 21 feet and staying in the vicinity no longer than one hour. (Tourists are charged a fee of $350 for the trip.) There have been no attacks, he says, but the rangers spend about a year acclimating newly discovered gorillas to humans. "The rangers have these guttural coughs and calls that calm the gorillas and send the message, 'Don't worry; it's us,' " says Mike. The more gorillas they can habituate, the more tourists the rangers can bring in.

Mike says he was struck by the "beautiful, amazing experience. After the maximum amount of time, we went back to the hut feeling very inspired."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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