David Attenborough recounts his personal experiences with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and how conservationists have battled to save the species from the brink of extinction.
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On one day every year in the city of London,
you can encounter some extraordinary wildlife.
Hundreds of gorillas are roaming the streets.
You wouldn't catch me running in one of these gorilla suits
but nonetheless, the Great Gorilla Run does raise...
great sums of money...
..to help protect mountain gorillas in Central Africa.
I met the real mountain gorillas
over a quarter of a century ago in Africa
and it's something I shall never, ever forget.
At the time, they were on the verge of extinction.
But since then, their numbers have increased despite all odds
and they've become a conservation success story.
How is it that mountain gorillas have been able to triumph over adversity?
That's what's this programme is going to try and examine.
Fewer than 90,000 gorillas are left in the world
and they live in the tropical forests of equatorial Africa,
split into western and eastern species.
The future of all gorillas is uncertain.
They're threatened by loss of habitat and hunting,
by disease and political instability.
But surprisingly, mountain gorillas, a sub species of eastern gorilla,
have been increasing despite facing these same threats.
That remarkable success is the subject of this story.
Some 700 mountain gorillas live in the wild today
and for 380 of them home is in the Virunga Volcanoes,
where the borders of Rwanda, Uganda
and the Democratic Republic of Congo all meet.
While those numbers may seem small, back in 1978 there were even fewer.
That's when I got the chance of a lifetime
to film them for the BBC series Life On Earth.
Spending time with these rare creatures
was an unforgettable experience.
-There is more meaning
and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance...
with a gorilla than any other animal I know.
We see the world in the same way that they do.
They walk around on the ground as we do, though they're...
..immensely more powerful than we are.
And so if ever there was a possibility
of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively
in another creature's world...
it must be with the gorilla.
'That intimate encounter not only moved me,
'it had a great effect on viewers everywhere.
'Mountain gorillas became iconic animals that people cared about.
'In order to understand how that happened,
'we need to examine their troubled relationship with humanity.
'The story begins over a century ago.'
In 1861, Paul du Chaillu
claimed to be the first white explorer
to see the terrifying man-ape of Africa in the wild.
He described the encounter in this book,
"Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa."
This is how he describes the gorilla.
"His eyes began to flash fierce a fire
"as we stood motionless on the defensive
"and the crest of short hair which stands on his forehead
"began to twitch rapidly up and down
"while his powerful fangs were shown
"as he again sent forth a thunderous roar.
"And now truly he reminded me
"of nothing but some hellish dream creature,
"a being of that hideous order - half-man, half-beast.
"Just as he began another of his roars,
"beating his breast in rage, we fired and killed him."
These terrifying tales inspired other explorers
who wanted to see this half-man, half-beast for themselves
and to take specimens home as trophies.
Thousands of western lowland gorillas were killed for private collections.
Some were taken alive and those that survived transportation
were then sentenced to a life in captivity.
Mountain gorillas were not discovered by European explorers until 1902.
A German, Captain Robert von Beringe,
was travelling in the Virunga Mountains
when he came across two of them
and shot them for scientific examination.
The mountain gorilla was named after him - Gorilla Beringei.
In 1921, the taxidermist Carl Akeley
from the American Museum of Natural History joined the gorilla rush.
He travelled to the Virungas to film and collect
mountain Gorilla specimens, and he killed five of them.
But Carl Akeley's triumph was short-lived.
In his autobiography, he describes the shame he felt
as he looked at the animal he had just killed.
"As he lay at the base of the tree, it took all one's scientific ardour
"to keep from feeling like a murderer.
"He was a magnificent creature with the face of an amiable giant
"who would do no harm, except perhaps in self-defence,
"or in defence of his friends."
Inspired by a new respect for gorillas,
Carl Akeley persuaded the King of Belgium
to declare the home of the mountain gorilla a national park.
So, on April 25th 1925,
the Virunga Volcanoes
became Africa's first national park.
The first step towards saving mountain gorillas had been taken.
But very little was known about the ecology,
behaviour and population of mountain gorillas
until zoologists began detailed field studies.
A census in 1960 estimated that there were only 450 of them in the Virungas.
By 1967, when the American Dian Fossey came here to study the gorillas,
that estimate had decreased dramatically to just 275.
On her arrival, Dian set up the Karisoke Research Centre
and began what was to become the longest and most detailed study of gorillas so far.
Dian hardly seemed to be an ideal candidate for the job.
She was not a zoologist.
She had wanted to become a vet but failed her exams
and became an occupational therapist instead.
She suffered from emphysema and a fear of heights,
not ideal when working in thin air on high mountains.
But her love of animals and her strong will
made up for her lack of expertise.
It soon became clear to Dian
that the mountain gorillas were in trouble.
They were threatened not only by loss of habitat but by poachers.
The National Park that had been created to protect them was failing to do so.
Dian would not only have the task of studying these animals,
but she'd have to try and save them from extinction.
She spent most of her time with one particular group
and that was the one that we were to film
for the BBC series Life On Earth.
'Recently, those of us who were on that trip
'got together to compare notes on just what happened.
'Not surprisingly perhaps after this long time,
'our memories didn't always exactly coincide.'
'The director in charge of that programme was John Sparks.'
It's not true. I mean, I wrote the script
and, clearly, if you're talking about the evolution of leading to humanity -
the opposable thumb, the thumb and forefinger giving a grip -
and I wrote in my script, the original script, I wrote it with chimpanzees.
Then you said, "Oh, no, not chimpanzees again.
"Why don't we do gorillas?"
-And I said, "Because that's silly. Gorillas."
I've always been fascinated by primates anyway
and I wanted to see mountain gorillas.
So this is how these things have evolved, you see?
I thought John's plan was rather over ambitious.
Mountain gorillas live 3,000 metres high,
up in the Virunga Volcanoes,
and are notoriously difficult to approach.
Getting to them would mean carrying all our film equipment
up 45-degree slopes through thick jungle.
And most problematical of all, there was no way
that we would be able to film them without the help of Dian Fossey -
the only person in the world who was studying them in the wild.
I'd heard of Dian Fossey and from what I'd heard,
I couldn't believe that Dian would allow a television crew coming in.
I said, "You'll never get it." You wrote a persuasive letter or something but you got the answer.
I have to say it, it surprised us all
that she wrote back a very nice letter saying, "You're welcome."
So we immediately made plans to launch an expedition there.
A few weeks later, we were on our way to the Virungas.
But things didn't turn out as expected.
Our guide, we knew, would be a researcher
who'd been working as Dian's assistant for over a year -
a young Yorkshire man named Ian Redmond.
When we arrived, the first person we met,
down at Ruhengeri, was you, Ian,
and you said, "I have got terrible news.
"One, Dian is very ill. But two, which is as important,
"that she is being destroyed with sorrow
"because her favourite gorilla has just been murdered."
The victim was Digit,
a young male gorilla for whom Dian had a special affection.
He had been killed eight days before we arrived, on New Year's Eve 1977.
He was 12 years old and had already gained the silver colouring of a mature male.
That meant that, as a young silverback,
he was expected to act as bodyguard for the family.
Eight days earlier, poachers managed to get into the park.
They were setting snares for antelope
but they were also after gorillas.
Determined to protect his family,
Digit would have fought any intruder.
But his bravery was no defence against the poacher's spears.
Having killed him, they cut off his head and his hands
in order to sell them for a few dollars as souvenirs.
I had the, at that time, the worst experience in my life...
finding the body of someone I'd known for over a year.
It was also clear that there'd been a frenzy of violence
because his body was covered with cuts
and they'd obviously just been in a bloodlust.
They took his head and his hands and they left the rest of the body
because people in Rwanda don't eat gorillas -
it's not a part of Africa where gorilla meat is favoured -
so they had no use for the body
and he was killed because foreigners were buying bits for souvenirs.
Then I had to go and find Dian.
We sat and talked right through to dawn, actually.
I felt Digit should become a martyr,
that his death should be used to try and prevent other deaths.
Dian was very worried that if we successfully raised a lot of money off Digit's death,
other gorillas would be killed to raise more money.
But she did in the end agree to use Digit's death
as a tool to raise awareness and raise funds
to do what she called active conservation,
which is patrols out protecting the gorillas in the forest.
It seemed the worst possible time to try and visit Dian
and ask if we could make a natural history sequence for a television programme.
If we had put a foot wrong,
if we had said something
that suggested we would not treat the gorillas with proper respect...
We would have been out that door fast enough!
She'd have no hesitation in saying, "Get out!"
But when we arrived,
Dian decided that our filming trip
could help publicise the plight of the gorillas
and agreed that our filming could go ahead as planned.
She gave Martin Saunders special instructions on how to go about the job.
I think we were very much on trial, the first day we went with them.
We certainly were.
I remember being told, "Don't look them in the face,
"don't stare them in the eyes and don't stand up and crawl through the vegetation and grunt."
I mean, when Dickie and me saw them first, we started grunting, boy!
We were grunting and we'd no intention of standing up, that's for sure.
The first view of a silverback...
A great swirl of vegetation
and this huge animal sort of disappearing into the undergrowth.
At our first encounter with them,
you saw palm trees being snapped off and...
Here were very, very powerful animals.
We were just about to approach them
and, you know, there's just a little frisson of fear.
Well, maybe they are kind of real King Kongs.
'We were all astonished to discover just how gentle
'these giants really were when they were undisturbed.'
I must say as a cameraman, I was very surprised.
I did not expect to get as close to the gorillas as we got.
This was the gift that Dian gave the world.
-The technique of winning the trust of completely wild gorillas.
It is quite difficult to keep your distance
because it's not that you go to them - they come to you.
No, no, and once you're accepted you become irrelevant.
Yeah. I had a problem because one saw a reflection in the camera,
thought it was another gorilla and came and put his arm round me!
It was impossible to film it because....
THEY TALK OVER EACH OTHER
That was one of the great moments of the filming actually, Martin,
was seeing this gorilla fingering the back of your head, trying to see who it was!
It was entirely thanks to Dian Fossey
that we were able to get so close to the gorillas.
After years of gaining their confidence,
she had habituated them to her presence
and they allowed her to sit alongside them without any concern.
'Puck has become very curious about my still camera.'
By the 1970s, Dian's television reports and articles
had made her famous worldwide.
And through her, people had come to know her gorillas
as individuals with names and personalities.
'I'm always amused by three-year-old Pablo's pout,
'which is unusual for gorillas.'
Dian knew little Pablo particularly well.
He was always hanging around her, intrigued by what she was up to.
It was the same confident Pablo who chose to lie on me
during the Life On Earth filming.
David, what was your recollection of this moment?
Oh, I suppose bliss, really.
-Yeah, you looked quite happy with everything.
-But you're grimacing.
Well, I was only grimacing because he's pulling my leg.
One of them out of shot there is pulling my foot.
These baby gorillas started taking off my shoes.
Well, you can't talk about the opposable thumb
and the importance in primate evolution of the grip
if somebody's taking off your shoes,
particularly if that somebody is two baby gorillas.
So I thought, "Well, this is... we can't actually do this."
And so, actually, notions of primate evolution
-and the technicalities of digital grips vanished.
-Yes. Out the window.
And I just sort of lay there while this extraordinary experience...
This was one of those amazing moments of that filming expedition.
I had the expectation of getting David
with a few gorillas in the background
and then to suddenly find he was surrounded by gorillas
with youngsters sort of up-ending on him
and sticking their bottoms in his face and biting his knee - unbelievable!
That was certainly one of the most unforgettable moments of my career
in making natural history films.
It was a marvellous, blissful moment.
Dian loved her gorillas as she might have loved her own children.
The killing of Digit, her favourite, was a terrible blow for her.
Furthermore, she had been severely ill for some time.
She had a chest infection and was spitting blood.
It was in this physical and emotional state
that Dian asked for our help.
She was in a frenzy of grief, wasn't she, really?
It was only on our last night there,
when we had filmed and got this remarkable footage,
she invited me to her cabin and we talked for, I don't know,
an hour or so in which she said,
"You must promise me that you will go back and you will organise fund-raising."
And I gave her that promise.
So we set off on the return journey back to Kigali, the Rwandan capital.
But there was further trouble ahead.
We came down off the mountain to meet a truck in a field.
We all got in this truck, I remember I was sat with the driver,
and we turned round this corner
and there were some khaki-clad Africans in the road.
And the driver said, "Bandits."
And put his foot down and we charged through these.
And John and David and Dickie was over on the back of the truck
and I suddenly heard these bullets winging over their heads, yeah?
It was then that it dawned on us that actually it wasn't bandits,
it was the army that had been sent to arrest us
because we seemed to have been caught in the middle of some sort of in-fight
about making an anti-Rwandese publicity film
about the way they weren't looking after the natural resources after Digit was killed.
It was an alarming situation.
Ian had stayed on the mountain with Dian and we didn't know who was who.
But you don't argue with people carrying loaded rifles.
I was hauled off the back and taken away to be strip searched
and so on, and you said to me,
-"Don't worry, I've changed the labels on the cans."
Dickie Bird, the sound recordist, and myself were on the truck.
"Dickie," I said, "if they confiscate this film, all that effort's for nothing."
We put exposed labels on unexposed rolls of film and we gave them the unexposed rolls of film.
-Dave and I were taken to a sort of army camp...
-Barbed wire enclosure!
A barbed wire enclosure. And taken to see someone who effectively started to say,
"Well, this is all a big mistake." Didn't he?
And I think he wanted about 2,000, or a lot of money,
and I said I wasn't going to pay and David said, "Pay it!" and I argued with him.
-You threatened to kill him!
-Yeah, that's right, yes. Yeah!
We jumped into a taxi and went straight to the airport.
We got onto our plane and when I saw the runway disappear behind us, I thought, "Thank God!"
That's right, yeah, yes. Yes, yes.
We now had to continue with the rest of the filming for Life On Earth elsewhere in Africa.
Back in Rwanda, Dian was spending less time on scientific research
and more on her war against the poachers.
She established the first effective anti-poaching patrols in the Virungas.
Patrols which eventually joined forces with government rangers
and continue to this day.
When they caught poachers, they brought them back to Dian for questioning
and only then handed them over to the authorities.
But Dian was also known to have more controversial methods for deterring poachers.
There were stories of her attempting to terrify them
using Halloween masks and even kidnapping their children.
But she realised that if she didn't take extreme action fast,
there would be no gorillas left.
It wasn't just poachers that Dian had to worry about.
The gorillas' forest home, on which they depended, was rapidly disappearing.
It had already been reduced to a tiny island of forest
in the middle of an immense sea of humanity.
Now the increasing human population
was threatening the little patch of forest that was left.
It was being cleared to make way for fields in which to grow Pyrethrum,
a kind of chrysanthemum that had suddenly become very valuable
as an eco-friendly alternative to the insecticide DDT,
which was poisoning so much wildlife in Europe.
So, paradoxically, protecting European eagles
was now threatening African apes.
When the European community
sponsored the Rwandan government to remove 40% of the park
to grow pyrethrum so that we had this biodegradable insecticide for our crops,
they were actually going to take that limit up to the 10,000ft mark.
Dian told me she saw the plans and it was coming up to Karisoke,
right up to the research centre would have been fields.
She fought that, in her inimitable way,
undoubtedly pounding tables and dominating people
and got the limit of the park redrawn at the 8,500ft level.
And if she hadn't done that, for sure there would not be...
Dian was single-handedly battling to save the gorillas,
despite her ill health.
If there was ever a time when she needed outside help, it was now.
Back in Britain, the Life On Earth series was broadcast on television.
It was a great success and eventually seen by 500 million people worldwide.
The gorilla episode was arguably the most popular sequence of all
and many people began to feel they wanted to help
in the struggle to save these beautiful creatures.
I hadn't forgotten my promise to Dian
to help raise funds for mountain gorilla conservation.
When I came back, we got you and Sandy Harcourt and Kelly Stewart
and the Fauna and Flora International,
and we set up the Mountain Gorilla Project there and then,
which started to raise money and eventually raised a lot of money.
-And continues in a new guise to this day.
Bill Weber was one of the key players
responsible for implementing the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda.
When he began, more than half the people told him
they thought the area should be cleared for agriculture.
Convincing the local people of the value of gorilla conservation wasn't going to be easy.
The Mountain Gorilla Project started officially in the summer of 1979
and had three main components.
One was to improve park protection and security - hire more guards, train them better.
To start an education programme,
so that you not only had millions of people around the world
who cared about gorillas,
but that you had at least thousands of Rwandans who knew and cared about gorillas.
But what became the lynch pin of the Mountain Gorilla Project was the tourism programme.
We went to the park service and said,
"You can make a lot more money off of tourism,
"if you set up a programme that has gorilla-based tourism at its heart."
The term ecotourism didn't exist at the time,
but it really was a prototype of that.
There's just nothing quite like being in and among mountain gorillas.
People will pay whatever's asked in Rwanda.
Mountain gorillas are exceedingly tolerant of a human presence,
they just seem to almost love having the company.
But the Mountain Gorilla Project faced opposition from two sources.
First, the Ministry of Agriculture with European funding
was about to take another one third of the park, 5,000 hectares, for a cattle-raising project.
They were a very strong ministry and the park service wasn't in those days.
Surprisingly, the second source of opposition to the Mountain Gorilla Project was Dian Fossey herself.
I thought she would welcome the support and the funds,
but she didn't feel that the education projects were a priority
and saw gorilla tourism as more of a hindrance than a help.
Dian believed that the gorillas ought to be protected for their own values.
I think that's a noble sentiment, but it wasn't working.
While she was here, the gorilla population had been nearly halved,
40% of the park had been cleared.
We felt you needed an alternative and that's what the Mountain Gorilla Project offered.
I think, although it was portrayed as an opposite point of view -
Dian active conservation versus the Mountain Gorilla Project and its long-term view - both were right.
You can't have one without the other,
but in terms of priorities, if you've got £1,000, what do you spend it on?
Education for the next generation while gorillas die today?
Or patrols that protect the gorillas now
and then try to find some more money for the future education?
I think Dian's contribution as a conservationist is fairly limited.
She came to study the gorillas. She was forced into protecting them,
she did some things that she thought would help.
I don't think they were effective, some of were counter-productive.
I think it required people with a different vision
and a different approach to make conservation work in this park and for the gorillas.
I believed we were supporting exactly the same mission as Dian,
we just used different techniques.
Although Dian Fossey has many critics,
she certainly succeeded in stimulating world-wide interest in mountain gorillas and their plight.
All too easily, the mountain gorilla may become extinct.
That's something we cannot afford to forget.
Dian's fame led to a best-selling book, "Gorillas In The Mist",
which was published in 1983.
Her story sparked an interest in Hollywood
and production started on a feature film about her life.
It was a tragedy that,
just as the world was becoming concerned about mountain gorillas
and international efforts were uniting to halt their decline,
Dian was no longer there to witness the progress.
She died on the night of December 26th 1985.
Her death was not natural.
'An American naturalist working in the Central African state of Rwanda has been found murdered.'
The body of Miss Dian Fossey was discovered at the Karisoke Research Institute,
which she founded herself.
No details were given about how she met her death or who her killers were.
Ian Redmond was back in England when he heard the terrible news.
I travelled out to Rwanda.
We went up to her cabin,
she had just been buried.
I'd missed the funeral but her blood stains were still on the carpet.
There was a chunk where a machete had hit her bedside table
and Dian's hair was caught in a splinter.
It was the scene of the crime.
But we don't know who did it and the murder's never been solved.
She was standing in the way of certain individuals making money.
Whether because they were making money through bush meat,
or the gold smuggling trade,
or someone's aspirations to turn Karisoke into a tourist camp
and make a lot of money that way.
If you stand in the way of someone who is ruthless, who wants to make a lot of money,
then it's not that surprising that she was killed.
Dian Fossey's grave now lies alongside those of her gorilla friends.
She spent 19 years researching and campaigning passionately,
on behalf of the gorillas,
and ultimately gave her life for them.
As her gravestone says, "No-one loved gorillas more."
All of us absolutely recognise that if it wasn't for Dian,
the mountain gorillas probably wouldn't be there at all now.
I think her short-term measures, which some people see as politically incorrect or inappropriate,
or not the best way forward,
were what held the ground until more thoughtful
and better planned long-term measures were put in place.
She was a fantastic role model for millions of people
and inspired millions of people.
I think she deserves a better reputation in science than she has.
Dian started what is less glamorous
but is essential to have long-term monitoring of populations.
We now have life histories of individuals, families,
changes in groups, births, deaths, infidelities -
all of this for gorillas since the late 1960s,
and that's a great contribution.
Dian had been murdered but the feature film about her life still went ahead.
Sigourney Weaver played her character in Gorillas In The Mist.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Dian Fossey,
Sigourney Weaver returned to Rwanda
to pay her respects and find out how Dian's legacy
continues to help the mountain gorillas.
'Playing Dian, I think, um...
'gave me such an experience
'of how much of a difference one individual can make.
'I'd never played anyone real before
'and I was so moved by the fact
'that here is this woman, who came all by herself,
'having never really been to Africa,
'and started researching mountain gorillas
'and really started this whole movement, not just to study them,
'but also to rescue them from what was certain extinction.'
I think that it's a very inspiring story.
And I think I appreciate it even more now than I did when I was playing her -
how courageous she had to be and how determined
and how much she must have loved these animals.
The movie Gorillas In the Mist was not only a huge box-office success,
it also persuaded millions worldwide to care about mountain gorillas.
Sigourney Weaver herself became determined
to do whatever she could to help.
Since 1987, she's been campaigning to save them
as the Honorary Chair of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Public support for gorilla conservation and tourism increased following the movie,
and mountain gorillas became the latest must-see animal.
In the '80s and early '90s, their population steadily grew
to about 320 individuals
and their future was looking promising.
But this period of stability and growth
was about to come to a sudden end.
The countries which, between them, share the mountain gorillas -
Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire -
have a history of political turmoil.
When civil war broke out in Rwanda,
caused by rivalries between extremist Hutus and Tutsis,
gorilla tourism came to an abrupt halt
and the future of the animals became very uncertain.
At the start of the war, both sides,
realising the gorillas' economic value,
issued assurances that they would not be killed.
But when the war escalated to horrific levels, no-one was safe.
In 1994, a million people were killed
in 100 days of genocidal slaughter.
The staff involved in gorilla research and conservation
were forced to flee and several died.
The region became the scene of the worst humanitarian crisis
since the Second World War.
There were two million refugees at camps bordering the park
and the forest was plundered for firewood and bush meat.
In August 1994, only days after the war had come to an end,
Ian Redmond and Dieter Steklis,
from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, went back to Rwanda.
Their plan was to rescue the park staff who'd been forced to flee
and were now in refugee camps in Zaire.
They were also anxious to find out how the gorillas had been affected by the war.
Their hazardous journey was filmed by the BBC for a nature special.
We drove down from Uganda,
crossed the border not knowing what we were gonna find.
Travelling through Rwanda, through the road blocks,
past the bodies in the ditches...
It was a country that stank of death.
Everyone of my Rwandan friends had lost a member of their family,
some of them most of their family.
That really was an awful period.
It was obvious the surrounding area was being stripped of its forest,
of its wood, and you can't blame the people.
It's cold and wet - they need to cook food and keep warm.
But in just trying to survive, they were destroying the surrounding forest.
We knew that hungry people would be buying bush meat
and if we didn't get some sort of protection in there quickly,
then the park would be awash with snares and hunters
killing antelope and buffalo, even if they weren't targeting gorillas.
So we wanted to get the conservation work restarted
before the poachers got organized and they would be quick off the mark.
After days of searching, Ian Redmond and Dieter Steklis
finally tracked down some of the park's staff.
It was critical that they were brought back to the park quickly
to prevent the widespread killing of gorillas.
The knowledge that's in the heads of trackers and guides and rangers
is what the future of those gorillas depend on.
And so looking after our friends and getting them back to work was one thing.
And to go into the forest, which many would see
as being kind of an alien environment, hostile,
felt actually like walking back into the garden of Eden.
It was wonderful - this oppression lifted
and we were back with the smells and the sounds of the forest.
We got up to the research centre
and found the buildings had been trashed,
possessions had been stolen or destroyed
and it was a mess, but there were still cabins there then.
It was heart-breaking for Ian and Dieter.
The research centre was in ruins
but their biggest concern was whether any of the park's gorillas had been killed.
We had somewhere to stay and we went out the next day to find one of the gorilla groups.
Ian was filled with apprehension as he hiked in search of the gorillas.
And there they were, going about their business in the forest.
It was wonderful to see them.
To his great relief, he had been able to locate and identify
more and more of his gorilla friends, one by one.
Over the years of unrest, more than 20 had disappeared
but that was far fewer than most people had expected.
It may well be that most of the gorillas had able to flee
and so had avoided the cross-fire.
But now they were back, and Ian and Dieter were able to reinstate park staff
and restart patrols by guards
before poachers were able to resume their hunting.
The gorillas were now protected once again.
The feeling at this stage was just one of enormous relief
to find that Pablo's group, as well as Titus's, were basically intact.
That they survived the worst of the war and seemed to be OK.
It was very much the feeling
that the gorillas really had a lesson for us,
that we humans should perhaps take a lesson out of their book
and stop killing our neighbours and our friends
and concentrate on the important things in life -
like eating and playing and making babies.
It seemed like a good omen that we were able to protect them again.
It's extraordinary how, in only 10 years,
Rwanda has repaired itself, healed itself,
and yes, of course there are still conflicts,
people trying to get over the terrible things that happened,
but it is very much the feeling of a country
that is pulling itself together and moving forward.
And what is wonderful in terms of the gorilla story
is that the gorillas are right at the centre of that progressive look forward.
Ian's Nature Special was screened on New Year's Day 1995.
Viewers were reassured that the mountain gorillas
had survived the war with minimum casualties.
In the following years, tourism began to increase again as security in the region improved.
By the year 2000, there were 360 mountain gorillas.
The next BBC primate series, Cousins, broadcast the same year,
showed viewers that the mountain gorillas were indeed thriving.
Primatologist Dr Charlotte Uhlenbroek went to Rwanda to film with the gorillas.
The highlight of the whole trip, of course,
was meeting this newborn baby gorilla.
We were so lucky. It was literally the night before we arrived,
we heard the news that a baby gorilla had been born.
And it was such a fantastic sign of hope, I felt,
because Rwanda had been devastated by war
and, against all odds, the gorillas had survived -
they continued their lives in the forest
and here was this new arrival, a new generation.
Such an optimistic sign for the future of those mountain gorillas, I felt.
The fact that this baby had been born to a mother
who had not only survived the war,
but had lost a hand and a foot in poachers' snares
was a cause for great celebration.
It was very touching because the park rangers got together
and decided they wanted to name the gorilla Bibisi, after our film crew.
It was a real honour.
So when we got down from the mountain that day, we cracked open some beers
and wet the baby's head, metaphorically, of course!
And it was lovely and made us feel
that we had a very, very special connection with this baby.
The birth of baby Bibisi was a source of optimism,
but the threats to gorillas had not gone away.
On 9th May 2002, gunshots were heard in the park.
Two adult female gorillas, Impanga and Muraha, were found dead.
Muraha's infant was still clinging to her mother's dead body.
But Impanga's infant, baby Bibisi, was missing.
It was absolutely devastating when we got the news
that Bibisi had actually been kidnapped
and Impanga, her mother, had been killed.
To this day, we don't know what happened to baby Bibisi.
Very, very few mountain gorillas make it,
especially when they're ripped from their mother's arms at the age of two.
Just the trauma of that experience alone is enough to kill them.
I think it's highly unlikely that she would have made it,
which is desperately sad.
The capture of baby Bibisi was not a one-off case.
Baby gorillas are still being snatched from the wild,
despite the fact that the commercial trade in all apes
is prohibited by the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species.
One baby mountain gorilla that was recently stolen was rescued
and is being kept near the Rwandan park headquarters.
This is three-year-old Maisha.
Park staff were tipped off that she was being offered for sale
and rescued her from where she was being secretly kept.
Chris Whittier, a vet from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project,
is responsible for her care.
The police and the Parks Authorities did an undercover operation
and managed to find where she was and arrested a number of poachers.
Up until that time, she'd been in a cave inside of a sack,
so it was pretty horrible conditions.
By the time Maisha was rescued, she was very traumatized.
It's likely that she would have witnessed the murder of some of her family,
as poachers would almost certainly have had to kill them in order to steal their baby.
Caring for mountain gorillas in captivity is not easy. Few survive.
But the vets here are specialists in gorilla medicine
and are doing everything they can to ensure her survival.
Maisha is currently the only captive Mountain gorilla in the world.
An orphan, she needs 24-hour care and attention.
She's evaluated periodically to look at her social adjustment
and how confident she is, and those sort of things.
Right now, the assessment is that she's doing well,
she's come a long way, but that she needs a little bit more time still
to really get to a normal behavioural level of a gorilla her age.
The team caring for Maisha have a moral dilemma.
It seems wrong to keep her in captivity longer than absolutely necessary,
but releasing her into the wild is very risky.
She could be rejected by other gorilla groups, injured or even killed.
Our hope is that she will get back into the wild
and become a healthy individual, contribute to the population.
That's easier said than done.
Every gorilla is precious.
Their populations are still so low that the loss of a single one could be critical.
But the mountain gorilla's fame will help its survival.
A gorilla kidnap today is a concern nationally and internationally.
Thanks to the economic value of gorilla tourism,
these animals are now recognised as one of the regions most valuable assets.
In Rwanda, over 8,000 visitors every year
pay up to 375 each to see the gorillas.
The annual revenue generated is over 2 million.
And the local community stands to benefit directly from the gorillas,
as the government has pledged to give them 5% of the park fees.
Mountain gorillas are very, very important
to the Rwandan economy and to the Rwandan people.
Now, for us, it is an identity. Say, "Rwanda" then say, "Gorillas."
They are the flagship of tourism in Rwanda,
now tourism is placed as number three,
as one of the major foreign exchange earners.
Also, when you come specifically here to the Virunga,
it's helping us in conservation.
We could not have saved this habitat if there were no gorillas there.
It's no surprise to me that gorilla tourism is so popular.
Spending time with gorillas is an experience like no other.
And they are as interested in us as we are in them.
Ian has his own theories on why this is so.
I think they're intrigued by how little our canine teeth are.
-Is that right?
-I think that...
-Yeah, I think they...
Apart from the fact we haven't got a beard and big black head?
Yeah, you look and smell like an adult male.
And we smell the same as them, especially sweating through the undergrowth!
When we're with them... It all suddenly came back to me,
sort of visions of school,
because I thought, "This smells like a rugby changing room after a hot sweaty, match."
You are constantly being reminded that they're your close relations
because they behave in ways and react in ways
which are very reminiscent of humans.
The problem is that it's almost too much
because if you're not careful, you identify too much
and you interpret too much in your own terms
and you probably get it wrong.
But visitors are no longer allowed to get as close as I was to Pablo back in 1978.
The fact that we are so genetically similar to gorillas,
sharing 98% of the same genes,
means that gorillas can catch our diseases.
That's why it's so important
that human visitors must be in good health,
and that they keep to a distance of seven metres.
Visits are also limited to just one hour
to reduce our impact on the animals.
Staff from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the National Park
monitor the health of the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains every day.
Gorillas can be prone to respiratory illnesses,
but the vets only intervene
if an illness or injury is potentially life-threatening.
Treatment can be disruptive to the group and dangerous,
for both the people and the gorillas.
Prevention is better than cure and eliminating disease here,
in both humans and animals, is of the greatest importance.
The fact that people live and work so close to the edge of the park,
increases the risk of the spread of disease
from humans to gorillas and vice versa.
To improve the health of the human community,
organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International
are supporting clinics surrounding the park,
providing medicine and education.
The hope is that the health of the people and the gorillas will improve as a result
and that the local community will feel that they themselves
are benefiting from gorilla conservation.
Protecting the gorillas' habitat, preventing poaching and the transmission of disease,
providing them with veterinary care
and giving them a real earning power through tourism,
has resulted in a significant increase in the gorillas' numbers.
But this success would not have been possible without political stability
and the government's commitment to ensure their survival.
Rwanda is proud of its growing population of mountain gorillas.
Recently, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame,
hosted a Gorilla Naming ceremony to celebrate the birth of 27 new baby gorillas in the park.
We in Rwanda are the custodians of the gorillas, plus our neighbours,
but we need to involve as many people as possible.
We want to tell the world that these are the only remaining gorillas in the world,
so every person on this planet has got to have a stake.
It's a fragile success but I know that if everybody is committed,
then we will really make it a reality for all the generations to come.
So the future of mountain gorillas is looking hopeful.
But the prospect for eastern and western lowland gorillas is much more bleak.
There are fewer than 90,000 of them left in the world
and their numbers are declining rapidly,
as a result of deforestation, hunting and diseases such as Ebola.
Little of their habitat is protected
and the areas in which they live are affected by civil war, lawlessness and extreme poverty.
Gorillas are not the only endangered great ape.
Orang-utans, chimpanzees and bonobos all face similar threats
and if we don't act now,
they will become extinct in our children's lifetime.
We're going to need serious commitment at the highest levels,
if we're to save the world's remaining great apes.
The first big step has already been taken.
In September 2005, an international meeting was brokered
by the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Countries and organisations
were encouraged to sign up to the Kinshasa Agreement
to save great apes from extinction.
Ian Redmond believes this is a positive step forward.
All those individual efforts from small organisations and big organisations
have now been knitted into a global strategy.
Instead of individual little heroic efforts going on here and here,
winning the odd battle but losing the war, we now have a chance
to actually strategically take on the threats to the great apes
and that's very exciting.
The declaration requires its signatories to reduce practices
that are wiping out great apes and enforce laws to protect them.
It is evident from this week's proceedings
that strong international co-operation will be forthcoming
to assure the long-term survival of the great apes.
The political will is encouraging
but the goal of securing the future of great apes in the wild by 2015
will only be realized if all parties fulfil their promises.
It was after returning from the historic meeting in Kinshasa
that Ian showed us some recent footage of the mountain gorillas
that we'd first met in Rwanda over 25 years ago.
-I would be...
..withdrawing and doing all the submissive gestures I can think of!
-Grunting like mad.
This looks like Titus now.
-Is that Titus?
The last time we'd seen Titus,
he was a lively, inquisitive youngster,
but we were in for more of a shock
when we saw what had become of young Pablo.
Here he is, sitting on me in 1978.
And here he is today -
a 200 kilo dominant silverback, king of his group.
-So that's Pablo.
-That was sitting on your foot.
-The one sitting on my feet?
-Good job he's not sitting on your feet now.
And Pablo is the leader now
of the biggest group of gorillas on record with 59 individuals.
I mean, they're rewriting the gorilla sociology books.
It's great news that Pablo's group has grown to record-breaking size.
In fact, the total number of mountain gorillas in the Virungas
has increased by 120 individuals in the last 25 years
to a high, at the last count, of 380.
It is now our responsibility to learn lessons from the mountain gorilla conservation story
and help all the other great apes
that are still so seriously endangered.
There's a long way to go
but we too can play our part in helping to save the great apes.
Thanks to individuals like these, to conservation organisations,
to communities, to governments,
there really is hope for the mountain gorilla
and the other great apes.
But we continue to destroy so much of the natural world
that danger is ever present.
The time really has come
to show our closest cousins that we do care.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd 2006
E-mail [email protected]
David Attenborough recounts his very personal experiences with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Ever since they were discovered over a century ago, these remarkable creatures have been threatened by loss of habitat, poaching, disease and political instability. But despite all odds their numbers have increased. David tells the extraordinary tale of how conservationists like Dian Fossey have battled to save the mountain gorilla from the brink of extinction.