National Geographic : 2017 Sep
year it ventures farther. The situation isn’t ideal. Gorillas don’t eat the potatoes or beans that vil- lagers plant—not yet. But they do kill trees, a valuable resource, and come into close contact with human and livestock waste, which is loaded with pathogens. The potential for disease spill- over between species is high, and the chance go- rillas could survive a virulent outbreak is low. So when the Titus group gets within a stone’s throw of the mud-and-stick homes of Bisate, a village of about 10,000 people, park guards waving bam- boo poles slowly shoo them back uphill. Vecellio sighs. “This is the price we’re paying for success.” DIAN FOSSEY, AN AMERICAN with no experi- ence researching wild animals, arrived in Africa to study mountain gorillas in the late 1960s at the urging of anthropologist Louis Leakey and with financing from the National Geographic Society. By 1973 the population of these great apes in the Virunga Mountains had fallen below 275, but today, thanks to extreme conservation measures—constant monitoring, intensive anti- poaching efforts, and emergency veterinary interventions—there are now about 480. More gorillas have been a boon for genetic diversity: For years, researchers have document- ed evidence of inbreeding, such as cleft palates and webbed fingers and toes. But the population S hortly after dawn two mountain gorillas swing gracefully over the shoulder-high stone wall that borders Volcanoes Na- tional Park in northwestern Rwanda. Landing lightly on cropped grass, the silverbacks stroll downhill through cultivated fields—knuckle-walking at first, then upright on two legs. The adult males belly up to eucalyptus trees and score the bark with their incisors. Then, joined by females and juveniles from their group, which researchers call Titus, they advance on a spindly stand of bamboo. Later that morning Veronica Vecellio, the gorilla program manager for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, settles onto a log inside the park, high on a thickly forested, mist-shrouded slope of the Virunga Mountains, and turns her attention to a silverback known as Urwibutso. A frequent wall hopper, Urwibutso is carefully folding thistle leaves before placing them in his mouth. When he turns toward Vecellio, an ebullient woman who studies gorilla group dynamics, she snaps a pic- ture, then zooms in on a wound on his nose. “He fought with another silverback from Titus this morning,” she whispers intently. (Silverbacks get their name from the white hairs that blanket males, saddlelike, when they reach maturity.) The Titus group has been sneaking over the park wall for 10 years, Vecellio says, and each By Elizabeth Royte Photographs by Ronan Donovan For more than a decade Fossey lived alone in a remote and damp cabin in an outpost she built between two mountains, boiling water for baths, eating food from cans, and reading and writing by lantern light. PHOTOGRAPHS ON PAGES 110-11, 115, AND 116-17 FROM BOB CAMPBELL PAPERS, SPECIAL AND AREA STUDIES COLLECTIONS, GEORGE A. SMATHERS LIBRARIES, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA WATCH ON NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Dian Fossey: Secrets in the Mist, a three-hour series, tells the story of the life, work, murder, and legacy of the gorilla researcher. Premieres later this year.