Gorillas

Stephen Quinn
November 26, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation

11/25 -  Hello all... Well, I need to give you an update on the baby Mountain Gorilla in Uganda.  He's (it's a little male) still has the snare around its neck. Mike Cranfield came back from Uganda late last night and gave us the full story. If you recall, Mike had darted the baby's mother and when she went down, the baby's father became alarmed, charged and grabbed his son to carry him to safety. He then led his troupe as far away as he could. Mike and the park trackers were able to revive the mother and catch her up to the retreating silverback. He then led his troupe deep (miles) into the national park. After Mike had returned to Rwanda, the park trackers contacted him to let him know that the troupe had been relocated in the park and they had noted that the snare was drawn tighter around the baby's neck. So, Mike is rushing back to try again. Unfortunately, this means Mike cannot accompany us in Congo. But we will be joined by two of his able staff, Molly Feltner and Julie Ghrist, so all is well.

Today we visited Virunga National Park and joined a team of gorilla trackers to find gorillas. We had remarkable succes in our sightings. We caught up with a troupe of about 20 individuals. The dominant silverback (there were three in the troupe) was a magnificent animal. His head was huge with a tall sagittal crest, intense chestnut eyes under a shadowed brow, and a large leathery black nose. He was beautiful in both majesty and demeanor. I'm guessing his weight at approx. 400 lbs. His name was Kwitona, which means humble, as he has been noted by the trackers as patient, tolerant and unlikely to be aggressive. He was fascinating to watch with his family. He stretched out calmly leaning on his elbow while his offspring clamored over him just as a human father would play with his toddlers on the livingroom rug. When his subservient silverbacks approached he would give them a stern glance and make a sound like he was clearing his throat. His underlings would immediately make way. If required , he would yawn and display his immense canines to signal his dominance.

While sketching his portrait, I could understand how Diane Fosse became so emotionally attached to her friend Digit and how conflicted Carl Akeley was in carrying out his mission for the museum - collecting scientific specimens for research.

When he had to shoot gorillas, his pragmatic approach to his work was challenged and he suffered a crises of conscience. After the large silverback that now stands in the center of the museum's diorama was shot and lie dead at his feet, he wrote in his field journal "It took all my scientific ardor to keep from feeling like a murderer. He (the dead gorilla) was a magnificent creature who had the face of an amiable giant who would do me know harm except to protect himself and his family. Of the two, I was the savage and the aggressor."

After an hour of sketching the animals I was, literally, high from the experience. At one point while sketching Kwitona and sitting on the ground, he arose and walked, in my direction, fully aware of my presence no more than five feet past me. As he approached I had no sense of threat or danger. As he passed he never looked directly at me or acknowledged my presence, but I sensed he was very aware of me. He was, of the two of us, clearly the alpha male, and I bowed in subservience as he passed, as instructed by our park trackers.


Leave for Congo
Tonight I am packing two backpacks for our trip into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) tomorrow. They are large and waterproof as I'm expecting heavy rain. All my art supplies, paints, panoramic easel, paintbox, etc. will fill within in them.  I have come prepared (the scouting motto) for everything and anything. The Democratic Republic of Congo is not on the top ten list of vacation spots in the world so I have tried to be thorough in all aspects of precautions and planning. Along with all my art equipment, I have a beautiful backpacking tent (weighs only two pounds) and a down sleeping bag (I have read that it gets down to freezing at night on Mount Mikeno). I will need to focus on painting while up in Kabara meadow (the Akeley site) so I don't want to cook or eat anything that might make me sick and slow me down. To that end, I have brought sardines, peanut butter, and hard tack crackers. Not a very varied cuisine, but it's safe.  Bottom line - I won't lose time being sick. Plus I won't have to boil water to wash dishes, pots or pans!

The climb is steep and it takes six hours. When we get there, my greatest fear is to be unable to find the gravesite and diorama location.

I'm looking forward to camping up on Mikeno and looking out across the Akeley's quoted " most beautiful place in all of Africa". His journal states that Mt. Nyongongo, the big active diorama in the center of the diorama scene, glows red at night on the horizon. I'm hoping the weather will be clear at night so we can see it. Wish us luck in our climb and goals.

P.S. Good birds of the Day: African Crowned Crane, African Crowned Eagle, Mountain Buzzard, Augar Buzzard, Yellow Bishop, Hooded Vulture, and (damn!) I missed calling a beautiful little hawk that I can only say looked like a small accipiter. Also missed a nice sunbird. Guess I'm getting old!

P.P.S. Hi Jessie (my artist/niece), The researchers at the MGVP compound showed me the kind message you sent. Thank you for your kind wishes, Love, Uncle Steve.

P.P.P.S. Leaving for DRC in one hour. I'm eating a big steak just in case we can't get  food for a while.

 

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