National Geographic : 2017 Sep
thE gORIllAS DIAN FOSSEY SAvED 127 again in groups that look more like those of Fos- sey’s time. “ This shows us that behavior doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It depends on a larger context,” Stoinski says. “As their environment and circum- stances change, so do things like gorilla social or- ganization.” And because gorillas take a long time to mature, it takes long-term studies to even hint at what “normal” means. WhIlE hUMAN ACtIvItIES are propelling about 60 percent of wild primate species toward extinction, one great ape population is rising. Even so, the mountain gorillas of the Virungas are still vulnerable. “The population is incredibly small and fragile,” Stoinski warns. And so the Fossey Fund continues to monitor animals and help remove snares, even as it in- vests in social programs. The organization creat- ed a school library and computer center in Bisate, where it also built a maternity ward; it runs con- servation education programs that reach about 13,000 Rwandans a year; and it plans to help villagers find ways to make a living that don’t in- clude scrambling over the park’s stone wall. Gorillas are already shifting into areas of the park with fewer groups. But humans may need to cede land to gorillas too. The government has pro- posed a buffer zone that would force people, their livestock, and their farm plots farther downhill. That would be enormously controversial, since 1,813 people per square mile call Musanze District home. “We need to make sure that the communi- ties understand the value of the park,” Stoinski says. After all, gorilla trekking is the mainstay of the nation’s tourism industry, which brought in $367 million in 2015, and the park shares 10 per- cent of its revenue with local communities. Watching a mother gorilla dandle a tiny puff of an infant while a pair of adolescents wrestle on a mattress of vines, it’s easy to forget the hu- man gymnastics that make such a delightful tab- leau possible. Critics ask whether these extreme conservation efforts consume money that might better be spent on other species, and some have suggested they may even disrupt natural selec- tion by helping less fit individuals survive. But Vecellio steadfastly defends the work. “We are keeping these gorillas alive, reversing the human impacts,” she says, “because it’s humans who have made them endangered.” j Fossey walks with Coco and Pucker. The babies were captured in 1969 for a German zoo and had been mistreated. She nursed the orphans back to health, even sharing her cabin with them, but ultimately lost her bid to keep them from captivity. ROBERT M. CAMPBELL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE Elizabeth Royte, a regular contributor, last visited Africa to write about the decline of vultures in the January 2016 issue. Ronan Donovan, who trained as a wildlife biologist, discovered a talent and passion for photog- raphy while researching chimpanzees in Uganda.