Synopses & Reviews
In 1978, when Bill Weber and Amy Vedder arrived in Rwanda to study mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey, the gorilla population was teetering toward extinction. Poaching was rampant, but it was loss of habitat that most endangered the gorillas. When yet another slice of the Parc des Volcans in the Virunga Mountains was targeted for development, Weber and Vedder recognized that the gorillas were doomed unless something was done to save their land. Over Fossey's objections, they helped found the Mountain Gorilla Project. The MGP was designed to educate Rwandans about the gorillas and about the importance of conservation, while at the same time establishing an ecotourism project -- one of the first anywhere in a rainforest -- to bring desperately needed revenue to Rwanda. Weber and Vedder realized that Rwandans were bearing the full cost of saving the gorillas while receiving none of the benefit; the MGP would change that formula and help to meet local people's needs.
In the Kingdom of Gorillas introduces readers to the world of mountain gorillas. Through the authors we come to know entire families of gorillas, from powerful silverback patriarchs, who fiercely protect their territory and their families, to helpless newborn infants, cradled in their mother's embrace. Weber and Vedder take us with them as they slog through the rain-soaked moun- tain forests, observing the gorillas at rest and at play, eating, grooming, and preparing their nightly nests. They tell us about the gorillas they recognized and came to know as individuals, stories both tragic and joyful. They describe a landscape that was heaven one day, green hell the next. And they tell of their discovery of the terrible and mysterious events surrounding Fossey's murder.
When the authors first arrived in Rwanda, European expatriates called it "the Switzerland of Africa," a name that referred not only to its high mountains and rugged beauty but also to Rwanda's relative political and economic stability. Most outsiders knew the country only for its endangered gorillas, but Rwanda was a nation in danger, too. In the 1980s Weber and Vedder expanded their conservation work in Rwanda to include other forest reserves, learning more about the country, its people, and its increasingly turbulent politics. When a simmering civil war exploded into genocide in 1994, Weber and Vedder were in the U.S., unable to contact their many friends and colleagues trapped in the horrendous bloodbath. Later they would hear tales of brutality but also of heroism, including stories of park workers who hid their countrymen to protect them from slaughter. Others continued to work in the face of danger and without pay for nearly a year. Ironically, throughout the genocide and the subsequent conflict, the Virunga homeland of the gorillas was scarcely touched.
Today the population of mountain gorillas is the highest it has been since the 1960s, and there is new hope for the species' fragile future even as the people of Rwanda strive to overcome their ethnic differences.
Rich with details about the gorillas' lives, the realities of conservation, and portraits of ordinary people caught in extraordinary times, this is a riveting adventure story that is sure to take its place among the classic accounts of the world of nature.
About the Author
and Amy Vedder
are internationally recognized for their work with mountain gorillas and tropical rainforests. For the past twenty-five years they have actively promoted the cause of conservation in nearly thirty countries in Africa and around the world. Drs. Weber and Vedder are general editors of African Rain Forest Ecology
(Yale University Press) and authors of dozens of articles and publications. Dr. Weber is director of North America programs for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Dr. Vedder is vice-president of WCS's Living Landscapes program. They are married and the parents of two sons, and live in New York's Hudson Valley.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Guide to African Words, Names, and Places
Section One: Under the Gun
- The View from Bukavu
- Why Are You Here?
- Close Encounters
- A Swamp Runs Through It
- Gorillas by the Numbers
Section Two: Pieces in the Puzzle
- Final Count
- Life in a Salad Bowl
- Sex Changes and Songfests
- Island Refuge in a Rising Tide
- Filters and Perspectives
- The Cattle Are Coming
Section Three: The Mountain Gorilla Project
- Crazy White People
- Moving the Mountain
- White Apes and Ecotourists
- Limits and Reservations
- Across the Virungas
- Why God Created Gorillas
- Food, Cameras, Action
- Moving On
Section Four: Along the Congo-Nile Divide
- Where Have All the Cattle Gone?
- Another Virunga Death
- In the Shadow of the Virungas
- Living in Rwanda
- Ten Years After
Section Five: In the Face of Madness
- The Cauldron Churns
Section Six: Myths and Realities
- Tarnished Notions