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November 5, 2011

In the Midst of Gorillas

“The king’s name is Gukubita. It means ‘beat’. But don’t worry, he beats his chest not his visitors.” Our guide Eugene winks, adjusts the automatic rifle on his shoulder, and turns toward the jungle.

We walk up the base of the Sambinyo Volcano to track Gukubita and his family of mountain gorillas.

Rwanda’s volcano region is called the Virunga Mountains and is the place Dian Fossey founded the Karasoke Research Center in 1967 to study and protect the gorillas.

Karasoke protects one third of all mountain gorillas in the Virungas, and because of their efforts the critically endangered population has increased by almost seven hundred.

Eugene’s machete rings out a high Cschringgg, as it strikes the bamboo thicket. The lush, emerald-colored terrain is difficult to navigate. There are no trails, so we walk on top of the vegetation.

I silently wish I remembered my gaiters and gloves, as my limbs scrape against the stinging nettles. Each unsteady step produces a new welt.

We pass three men who live on the volcano by day. They are armed, quiet, and greet us with nods. These men protect the gorillas from hired poachers, who kill the majestic animals for souvenir heads and hands, then sell them as bushmeat. The baby gorillas are taken from their families and sold to exotic animal owners, who focus only on their status in society and not their proper place on the planet.

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