Monday, November 11, 2013


GorillaCam - Save a Species

Technology paves a new way to help the gorillas survive. Please join us.

31 October 2013

Dear Wildlife Advocate,

Africa’s largest mammals are seriously threatened. Ivory is now worth 20 percent more than gold, hence militant insurgents have turned to massacring elephants to finance their wars. The trade in tusks and rhino horn, and the buildup of armed groups in and around great ape habitats have all contributed to a poaching bonanza. Elephant, rhino, gorilla, and chimpanzee are now more threatened than at any other time in history.

African wildlife authorities are cash-strapped, unable to afford the numbers of rangers needed to adequately patrol protected areas. Consequently conservationists have turned to innovative technology to find new cost-effective ways of tackling the threats to wildlife.

One such innovation is the GorillaCam project proposed for the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. It uses small weatherproof cameras and green-energy fuel cells to keep an eye on one of the world’s only populations of mountain gorillas. 

Working over the next four years in partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, WildLIGHT and Global Changemaker hope to demonstrate that this innovation can be a self-financing means of protecting wildlife in remote protected areas across the continent. And in addition to boosting Africa’s beleaguered conservation efforts, GorillaCam will demonstrate the capacity for green energy to overcome a host of challenges in the developing world. We believe this presents a potential paradigm shift in global change.

GorillaCam has generated a good deal of interest. By all accounts it is a great idea, but we cannot proceed without pump-priming funding. At this time we are hoping to raise $40,000 - ten percent of the budget - so we may conduct due diligence, a site visit, and make all the necessary preparations before setting it up. We expect GorillaCam will have raised the rest of its entire budget via crowd-funding and be fully functioning in the jungle by the end of the first quarter of 2014, and that the project will start to become self-financing in 2016.

Your support is needed to stop the growing threats to Africa’s large mammals. Please consider making a donation to WildLIGHT for all or part of the $40,000 (£25,000). By stopping the poachers, you will not only be preserving elephant, rhino, chimp and gorilla populations for future generations, but you’ll also make Africa a much safer place. 

Thank you for your generous consideration. Please don’t hesitate to email me for further information at I look forward to hearing from you soon. 

Yours sincerely,

Greg Cummings

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rumble in the Jungle

George Foreman vs Mohammed Ali
Kinshasa, ZaÏre, 30 October 1974

Living in Tanzania in 1974, I did not miss the excitement that surrounded this historic boxing event taking place in tropical Africa. Heavyweight champion George Foreman vs Muhammed Ali.  Zaire's president Mobutu Sésé Seko had asked for the fight to be held in his country, and in one of his first ventures as a professional boxing promoter Don King agreed, in exchange for $5 million each for the contenders. 

The heavyweight championship of the world was set to begin at 4 am local time in Kinshasa so that it could be seen on closed-circuit television live in eastern United States at 10 pm. Consequently most of us had to wait until the next morning to learn the result.

The Rumble in the Jungle is considered one of the greatest sporting moments in history. But rather than test my sport-writing capabilities, here's a concise write up I found on the Boxing Memorabilia website:

Muhammad Ali was a major underdog, boxing’s faded prince at 32 years of age. Many boxing commentators felt that Ali had reached the end of the road. Between Ali and the title was a bigger, younger and stronger man, who had never lost and had knocked out 37 of his 40 opponents. His last eight fights had all ended inside six minutes. Foreman had destroyed Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, the two men who had beaten Muhammad Ali. He was surely unbeatable in the same way that Sonny Liston had been.

This was the great promotion by Don King who had managed to raise a purse of $10 million (to be split equally) from the president of Zaire, Joseph Mobutu. Mobutu was a dictator who ruled his country through fear.

Muhammad Ali soon settled into Africa. He was recognised even in the remotest parts of the country. He soon learned the phrase that became his mantra, "Ali Boma Ye" wich translated into "Ali Kill Him." Foreman, surly and uncommunitive soon lost the PR battle. Just as Ali had painted Frazier as the outsider in his own land, he did the same to Foreman in Africa. Very quickly Ali had the whole country behind him.

Then eight days before the fight, Foreman's sparring partner Bill Murray accidentally caught him with an elbow and cut him over his right eye. The bout was off. The fight would be postponed for almost five weeks and everyone would remain in Zaire while Foreman healed. This of course gave Ali the chance to work his mind games on his opponent. With a captive press corps, he characterized Foreman as the Mummy, and mocked his straight up and down style. Ali claimed he would dance rings around Foreman when fight night came.

The weather before the fight was oppressive as the rainy season was fast approaching. The ropes of the ring would stretch in the heat and the songe mat softened and would be harder for Ali to move about. The mood in Ali's camp darkened.

The fighters entered the ring at four in the morning, to allow the satellite feeds to the US to be shown Prime Time. The attendance was 60,000 although Mobutu would watch on TV from his compound for fear of assassination. At the opening bell, Ali seized the initiative with an audatious attack. He rushed at Foreman and landed a hard right hand. Then he hit Foreman with punches that confounded the champion. Then Ali went to the ropes and allowed Foreman to hit him.

Even Angelo Dundee was unaware of Ali's plan. In between rounds one and two Ali would lead the crowds in chants of "Ali Boma Ye!" He spent the entire second round leaning on the ropes, which by now were very slack. Ali swung back into the ropes to ride Foreman's punches absorbing a lot of them on his arms and gloves. WHen the round was over Dundee shouted at Ali to start dancing. In the third round Ali ignored Dundee's advice and continued his rope-a-dope tactic.

As Foreman continued to hit him, Ali began to taunt him "Is that all you got, George? You disappoint me. My Grandma punches harder than you do... you supposed to be bad..." After two more rounds, Ali's strategy was becoming clear.

In the hot night, Foreman sucked at the heavy air. Ali continued to instruct Foreman to hit him harder. Then he opened up his gloves and said, "George, now its my turn," and unleashed some dizzying shots of his own. Slumped on his stool after the bell, Foreman was attended by worrying men. Foreman had not had to fight for more than six minutes for a long time. In contrast, Ali had hardly bothered to sit down. "I'll get him in a couple of rounds," he told Dundee.

For rounds six and seven, Ali continued to absorb punches, but landed more of his own. Foreman's swings began desperate. In the eighth, Ali's moment came, as he knew it would. Foreman aimed one last slug and staggered forward with the momentum of it. Ali sprang from the ropes, landing two beautifully timed straight right hands, a concussive left hook and a last perfect right hand.

Foreman flapped at him and then fell in a slow pirouette. As the count reached 10 he could only half stand and the fight was over. In seconds the ring was full and Ali engulfed. He had beaten the unbeatable for the second time in his career and reclaimed boxing's greatest prize. Within an hour of the end of the fight the heavens opened and the stadium was flooded.

© Copyright 2000 Boxing-Memorabilia

Papa's Last Safari

New York Times, January 26, 1954

Hemingway Out of the Jungle; Arm Hurt, He Says Luck Holds

Entebbe, Uganda, Jan. 25--Ernest Hemingway arrived in Entebbe today after having survived two plane crashes in the elephant country of Uganda.

His head was swathed in bandages and his arm was injured, but the novelist, who is 55 years old, quipped: "My luck, she is running very good."

He was carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin. With him was his wife, the former Mary Welsh. She had two cracked ribs and was limping as Mr. Hemingway helped her from an automobile that brought them here from Butiaba, 170 miles away.

Although he declined an offer to fly out of the jungle after his second crash yesterday, Mr. Hemingway said with a grin that he would fly again as soon as he had found another plane.

He waved a swollen arm, wrapped in a torn shirt, and appeared to be in high spirits as he shrugged off the crashes.

He joshed his wife, saying her snoring had attracted elephants as they camped overnight near the wreckage of the first plane that crash-landed Saturday near Murchison Falls on the upper Nile near Lake Albert.

"We held our breath about two hours while an elephant twelve paces away was silhouetted in the moonlight, listening to my wife's snores," Mr. Hemingway roared.

Mrs. Hemingway, a former war correspondent, smiled.

Mr. Hemingway was examined by a doctor at Butiaba, scene of the second plane crash. An X-ray was advised, but he apparently was not badly hurt.

The first accident occurred when a Cessna, piloted by Roy Marsh, cracked up near the 400-foot falls while making an emergency landing. Search pilots who flew over reported herds of elephants near.

The second accident occurred Sunday after the Hemingways had been taken by a tourist steamer to Butiaba. There a plane, piloted by T. R. Cartwright, ground-looped into a sisal plantation and caught fire.

Mr. Hemingway said the blue and silver single-engine Cessna they had hired for the flight to Murchison Falls crashed when Mr. Marsh dived at low altitude to avoid hitting a flying flock of ibises--black and white jungle birds big enough to smash the canopy of the plane.

Landed on Elephant Track

Mr. Hemingway said that to miss the ibises the plane had to land either on a sandpit where six crocodiles lay basking in the sun or on an elephant track through thick scrub.

Mr. Marsh chose the scrub and landed the plane with minor damage. They spent Saturday night around a camp fire surrounded by the elephant herd and caught a ride yesterday morning in a launch filled with tourists back to Butiaba on Lake Albert.

When the second plane ground-looped and caught fire. Mr. Hemingway said he butted open the rear door and scrambled out. His wife and the pilot also escaped, but all their luggage was destroyed.

Even when the first crash stranded them overnight in the jungle, Mr. Hemingway said he was not worried. "We had emergency goods, but were short on water," he said. "We took turns going to the river, but the elephants were very stuffy about it. There were lot of hippos and crocs wandering around the river bank."

The trip around Africa, he said, is his wife's Christmas present.

Mr. Cartwright, who flew here from Butiaba, brought the first details of the two crashes. He said that when he asked Mr. Hemingway about his adventures the novelist merely replied that he was "very impressed" by the wealth of big game.

The Hemingways found big brush fires burning near the edge of the Upper Nile when they first landed and set backfires to save themselves and the plane, Cartwright said.

At twilight they were forced to move back from the banks of the Nile, tormented by swarms of mosquitos.

For the last few weeks he and his wife have been on a safari on which he is writing a series of articles for Look Magazine. One of his first stops on his return to Africa after twenty years was the towering peak of Kilimanjaro.

It was Kilimanjaro that signified death to one of his heroes.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Travel Experiences

In 1967, when I was four years old, my parents whisked me away from Montreal to live in Nairobi. I immediately felt at home. As far as I knew, Africa was only down the road. Our new residence, a bungalow built of Njiru bluestone on the crest of a wooded bluff overlooking the Muthari River valley, was straight out of a story book.  

We toured the country exhaustively in our Peugeot 304, visiting nearly every one of Kenya’s famous game parks. Watching this magical mystery land unfold, as the car stereo played an eclectic selection of tapes, my infant mind was unable to tell apart what I saw and what I heard, namely lions, giraffes, tangerine trees and marmalade skies. 

Dad loved long road trips, taking us across Uganda, Dahomey, Togo, and Cameroon, as well as the four corners of the countries we lived in: Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania. Nor did he miss an opportunity to stopover on our way back for home leave, sailing the RMS Pendennis Castle from Cape Town to Southampton one year, and touring the sights of Cairo the next. 

By the time I was sixteen I had seen a kaleidoscope of cultures, wildlife, landscapes, and traditions, enough to last a life time. But, alas, I kept moving.

Madagascar was out of this world, a hybrid culture of Asian and African influences, resulting in fascinating animistic rituals, and with a unique flora and fauna unlike anything I’d ever seen. Only its kleptocratic government was familiar. 

I was boarding at the American Lutheran Missionary School in Fort Dauphin. With just 32 other students, grades 1 through 12, running around barefoot between a 4-roomed schoolhouse, Mission Children’s Home, post office, and church all surrounded by a white picket fence, it was like were were living in the Little House on the Prairie

I left in 1979, but Africa endured in my dreams, under my skin, until I came back six years later to work as a free-lance journalist in Ethiopia. The famine of 1985 opened my eyes to the continent’s woes and profoundly changed my outlook. I was glad for a bit of rest and relaxation when I won second prize in the United Nation’s 40th anniversary ball raffle at the Addis Hilton: two weeks in the Yemen. Crossing that ancient land was one of my favourite all time journeys.

Another six years would pass before I returned to Africa again, this time as a gorilla conservationist. Subsequently, I would spend the next two decades visiting and working in twenty five national parks in Rwanda, Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon, Cameroon, South Africa, and Uganda where I now reside.

My experiences were not confined to Africa. During my final year at boarding school my parents moved continents. But I soon found them, living in a leafy suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Moving again was made easier by Ceylon’s island life, but once more I was trying to find new friends and comprehend a powerful new culture. Asia was a constant distraction. There were birdcalls I didn’t recognise, plants I’d never seen before, curious sensations, and fragrances so sweet and untroubled, I felt as though I was floating on air.

‘A stupa is a stupa is a stupa,’ said my father as we travelled from one Buddhist temple to the next, in Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya, KandyRatnapura, Galle, and Unawantuna Bay. Nothing could stop us (except occasionally two buses passing on a mountain hairpin turn). Rich in history, ritual, and religion Sri Lanka was strangely intoxicating to all who dropped in. This of course was before the outbreak of the civil war - now ended.

After completing a scuba diving course with Arthur C. Clarke’s Underwater Safaris, I soon had my sights on more watery destinations. Seven hundred kilometres south west of Sri Lanka was Maldives, an archipelago of nearly 1,200 islands, where the longest road was four kilometres. It seemed like a good choice for my first ocean dive. Mr Clarke was none to happy when he learned they had taken me down to one hundred twenty feet. 

In March 1980 we moved to Singapore. The city-island-state was an entirely new experience. For the first time we were living in a place with shopping malls, skyscrapers and highways. It was both thrilling and frustrating, not least for the lack of culture and wilderness. To celebrate my eighteenth birthday my father drove my brother and me to Rawa Island in Malaysia. It was to be my last hurrah before returning to Canada for a higher education. 

After three successive universities, I returned Singapore in 1985 to work as a free-lance journalist. My parents had moved again to a new posting, so I rented a room in a high-rise apartment in Ang Mo Kio, near the causeway. Keeping that as my base, I spent the next six months travelling north through Malaysia and Thailand

I hitchhiked most of the way, and whomever gave me a lift often gave me a tour of the sights too, affording me a unique insight into these lands and providing colourful material for my articles, published in the Singapore Monitor and Bangkok Post. I visited the Pahang Jungle, Penang, Koh Samui, Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Phitsanulok, Chang Mai, and Chiang Rai, finally ending my journey at the Golden Triangle, where I lived for a month in a stilted wooden hut suspended over the confluence of the Mekong and Sop Ruak rivers. Heaven!

Hoping to secure more permanent writing work I eventually wound up in Bangkok. Alas, there wasn’t enough to sustain me and, in need of a financial boost, I soon went into low orbit around Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where my parents were now living. Continental shifts were coming thick and fast, and soon I had moved again to England, where I would stay a while.

Preoccupied elsewhere, it was two years before I made my way back to Asia, for a holiday in Jakarta and Bali, Indonesia. Slowly, seductively, I was called back again, this time to Sri Lanka, for a World Bank conference on conflict minerals in 2006. On this occasion I met with my old friend Arthur C. Clarke for the last time before he died. 

European destinations were always a feature of home leave. It was hard to avoid them on the way back. Rather than route us through Heathrow every time, my mother and father tried to mix it up. Hence, we visited Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Athens, Rome, and many a chateaux, vineyard, monument, and relic in between. 

London was the city we frequented most, as it was my grandmother’s birthplace. For this reason, in 1986 I chose the British capital as somewhere to finally settle down. I was 22 and hadn’t had a permanent address in eighteen years. During the next twenty I lived in a small flat in north London, but travelled across Britain and the rest of Europe, visiting France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. 

South America
I only ever got a glimpse of this beguiling continent in 1974, on a whirlwind itinerary that took us from Dar-es-salaam to Rio de Janeiro, via Johannesburg. After a few days in Brazil, we spent a week with friends in Caracas, Venezuela, before flying up to Montreal via New York. 

North America
New York epitomizes this bold continent better than any other city. With its tall shiny buildings, big cars wheeling down broad streets, good food and snappy people, it never fails to invigorate. After Pan Am began scheduling flights directly from West Africa, we dropped in regularly, once on July 4th 1976, America’s bicentennial. The flotilla of tall ships sailing into harbour were an inspiration to watch from my uncle’s 44th storey Manhattan office.

During the Nineties and Oughts work often took me the United States. Nineteen states and one district to be exact -  MA, CT, NH, VM, NY, NJ, DC, GA, FL, TN, MI, IN, MN, ND, WI, IL, CO, CA, OR, and WA - with countless journeys to New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle

Paradoxically my home country Canada is the one place I’ve travelled least. Yet not until I experienced Vancouver Island did I begin to appreciate the true beauty of North America. 

My favourite country on the continent is Mexico. In 1984 I travelled by bus from Mexico City to Acapulco on the Pacific Coast. Recently I’ve been flying into San Jose del Cabo, Baja, not least because my parents now live there in their retirement. A heady mix of sun, desert and deep blue sea make this a great holiday destination. And there’s nothing quite like watching grey whales migrate while sipping margaritas by the Sea of Cortez. Todo magia!

Today I live in the middle of sunny Africa, in a suburb of Kampala where I write novels and guide safaris, regularly visiting some of the region’s most spectacular wildernesses. That’s not to say I no longer visit outside countries. Last year I stayed four months in Baja working on my second novel. And on my way back to Uganda I spent a month in Hollywood, three weeks in London and three weeks in a remote cottage in northern France. The journey never ends!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Gorilla Ambassadors

Photographs by Scott and Leja DeLisi
Leja DeLisi, Michael Kobold and the author set out with porters and guides to find Nkuringo
High atop a narrow ridge in the Bufumbira Mountains, the visitor reception centre was bathed in the first rays of sunlight. Outside the walls were washed with an orange patina and after years of rainswept erosion the buildings had become raised on their foundations. Half a dozen Uganda Wildlife Authority guards in green wellington boots were standing in a doorway, coughing and talking amongst themselves. 
Beyond them, an impervious canopy draped over a steeply concertinaed landscape of summits and precipitous valleys. Ranging between 2,600 and 1,160 metres above sea level and covering an area 327 square kilometres in size (much larger if you iron it), the Bakiga call this primeval rainforest Bwindi, which means ‘darkness’. Its full name is the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Despite being doubly warned, hundreds of tourists bushwhack Bwindi’s slopes every year in search of a rare species of the large charismatic mammal Dian Fossey called “the greatest of the great apes.” Mountain gorillas are only found here and in the Virunga volcanoes thirty kilometres due south. A recent census put their numbers at 880, which may sound low but that’s a population increase of more than 30 percent in the past 20 years.
I was delighted to be guiding United States ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi, his wife Leija, and Michael Kobold of Kobold watches - worn by Navy SEALs, Arctic explorers, and Everest mountaineers. Dressed in safari gear with our trouser legs tucked into our socks, there was no disguising our enthusiasm as we arrived at the centre. 
Modern, a guide from the local Bakiga tribe, introduced himself then ushered us into the gorilla briefing room, which was decorated with large illustrated posters filled with facts about gorillas, their habitats, behaviour, and the efforts to protect them. 
We sat down on wooden chairs and listened to Modern recite the do’s and don’ts of gorilla etiquette. “Should you need to cough,” he said, “cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas. Try not to make eye contact, nor any rapid movements that may frighten them.”  
“How long is the trek?” I asked, grinning. My cheerful demeanor belied a trembling anxiety. Having the opportunity to guide these good people on their very first gorilla trek was indeed an honour, but the pressure to deliver a memorable gorilla safari had never been greater. 
The question was moot. Any experienced gorilla guide knows trekking the big fellahs differs greatly from one place to the next, indeed from one day to the next. Different groups in different habitats under different microclimates make gorilla trekking wholly unpredictable. 
I’d been to Bwindi on several occasions, but this was my first time meeting these particular gorillas. The guidebook was unequivocal: “Nkuringo is the toughest of all gorilla tracking locations and is not for the unfit, elderly or faint hearted.”
Modern smiled reassuringly then said, “We start from much higher up than where the gorillas range and usually find them foraging in the valley in the buffer zone next to the forest.” 
The trek back would be a different story.
Diplomacy and Birding

US Ambassador to Uganda, Scott DeLisi
At 9 o’clock we set off westward under a cloudless sky along Nteko ridge. Being at high altitude, and close to the equator, the greenness of everything was excessively dazzling in the sunshine. Scott DeLisi led the way, stabbing his hiking stick into the path ahead. Meantime Michael Kobold and I hung back behind Leija, who was determined to take the trek a little easier.  
Birds flew all around us, flycatchers, sunbirds, barbets, warblers, and starlings, darting in and out of the eucalyptus forests and cultivations like fretful scrutineers. The DeLisi’s stopped to photograph every new species.
“How did you wind up in the diplomatic corp,” I asked Scott, as he focused his camera on a Broad-billed roller that was perched on the perimeter fence of a farm growing beans all the way down into the Kashasha river valley below. 
“I saw an ad for the foreign service exam in The Wall Street Journal,” he replied, taking a series of snaps. He then turned to me with a rascally grin and added, “I didn’t know what I was getting into. It just seemed like a good idea at the time.” 
While undoubtedly it takes all sorts to make up a worthy diplomatic corp, foremost in a diplomat’s qualifications must be a stately approach and a cool head. Ambassador DeLisi possesses both these qualities, as well as a common touch rarely seen in his line of work.
“Hello, my name is Scott DeLisi and I’m looking forward to my arrival in Uganda,” he says in a tongue-in-cheek introductory video on YouTube in which he and Leija wander through a forest back home, wearing safari vests, binoculars and hats, pointing out the marvels in the trees. “We started birdwatching 15 years ago in Botswana and have since travelled through southern Africa Eritrea, Nepal and India, combing diplomacy and birding.”
Birdwatching is Bwindi’s second biggest attraction. The 25,000 year old forest boasts fourteen species that are endemic, meaning only found here. Twitchers from all over the world visit for the chance of spotting an African green broadbill among the mixed-species flocks gleaning for insects at the forests edge, or a Grauer’s rush warbler perched on a swamp reed. 
Meet the Roundstones

“You see that hill,” said Modern, pointing to a perfectly round knoll wedged between the forest edge and the buffer zone in the valley below. “That’s how our group of Mountain gorillas got its name. Nkuringo means round stone.” Suddenly a loud bark was heard in the forest. The gorillas were near.
As we started down the steep incline, between cypress trees and bean plants swaying and singing in the breeze, I noticed that, rather than one of his eponymous precision timepieces, Michael Kobold was wearing a Swatch. Not surprising in the African bush, considering a Kobold watch costs upwards of $3,000. 
“You don’t meet too many watchmakers these days,” I said, shadowing his footfalls down the slope. 
Modern the guide, and Michael Kobold
“I learnt watchmaking when I was sixteen,” he said with an east coast American accent that belied his Tutonic upbringing, “under the legendary Gerd Lang of Chronoswiss. At nineteen I launched my own company.” Gregarious to a fault and with an enduring twinkle in his eye, it’s easy to see how his personality helped him succeed. 
In a decade and a half Mike had almost single-handedly built Kobold into a leading luxury brand to rival Tag Hauer and Omega. James Gandalfini, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bill Clinton, Stirling Moss and Sir Ranulph Fiennes - “the world’s greatest explorer” according to the Guinness Book of Records - are some of the rich and famous with Kobold watches strapped to their wrists.
Even before we’d met he introduced me to the US ambassador and his wife. “Together they roam the world looking for rare birds and other interesting species.” And in the same email he asked if I’d like to become an official Kobold brand ambassador.  “But what a life you have led” he wrote, “and what a life you continue to lead!”
I was dumbfounded. As it turned out Mike’s faith in me was down to the say-so of our mutual friend, one larger-than-life character on whom I based Johnny Oceans, the hero of my second novel Pirates. Moreover Pirates‘s macguffin - that desired object everyone’s willing to sacrifice almost anything to get - is a Kobold watch. 
Now, barely a month after completing the first draft of my manuscript, in a case of life imitating art, I was trekking gorillas with my macguffin’s creator and his good friends the DeLisi’s. 
“We’re making you a watch,” he said, leaping nimbly across the rocks of a dried up waterfall. “It’s almost done.”
The Greatest of the Great Apes

Christmas, a blackback in Nkuringo group
“We have reached,” smiled Modern, standing in the valley floor. He issued an order into his walkie talkie and a voice called out from beneath the forest canopy, barely fifty metres away. “That’s the trackers. They’re with the gorillas.”
The first thing I noticed, as we moved nearer the group, was the absence of any fear odour, which gorillas usually give off when approached. Apparently the Nkuringos were expecting us. 
We were immediately engaged by youngsters determined we should join in their game of tag. Modern did his best to subtly shoo them away but they never ceased rough housing. One three year-old refused to participate as he was too busy whimpering for more breast milk, though his mother was clearly trying to wean him. 
We found the silverback Rafiki preoccupied with a particular female that had her back turned to him. Gazing longingly at her, affectionately clutching a tuft of fur on her back, he appeared to be trying to make up after a quarrel. His adjutant Christmas kept vigil, and was the coolest, calmest blackback I’ve ever encountered, though he did try to twice grab hold of the ambassador’s leg.
Safari, the former silverback of Nkuringo
Over the course of the next hour, as we tiptoed through the springy foliage beneath the Giant yellow mulberry trees, we saw all fourteen gorillas in the group. Like monks in an ashram they needed to be sought out in their ferny hideaways. 
The last gorilla we encountered was the sage old silverback Safari, who had run the group for fifteen years before relinquishing leadership to the incumbent Rafiki. I was told he did not give up willingly, but put up a bold struggle that lasted for days. The fact that he was allowed to remain in his group was testament to their humanity. I know, we need a more encompassing word. 
Safari’s age, estimated at 40 years, had profoundly altered his appearance. His hair was long, chest limp, features sagging. Having lost all his teeth, he ate only soft young mulberry leaves, and there were deep dimples in his cheeks. 
He regarded us with tired, opaque eyes and a perspicacious gaze that spoke of a time when he alone used to keep the humans in line. I understood his pain. We'd both been brushed aside for younger blood, for the good of the gorillas.
Whether as a consequence of apres-gorilla bliss or our ambassadorial trek, but as we started back up the ridge I came to the realisation that I too was an the gorillas.
True, gorillas already have ambassadors from their own species, gallant individuals dispersed about the globe in zoos and institutions, who admirably represent their branch of the great ape tree. Koko, Snowflake, Bushman, and Samson swing to mind. 
In the wild their diplomatic corps seems wholly staffed by mountain gorillas, stars of the silver screen and countless wildlife documentaries, watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world. But a well-protected minority sub-species made up of less than 0.007% of Africa’s total gorilla population is hardly representative. What about the rest of them?
If we are to consider the entire range of the two gorilla species, Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei, we find a diverse ape federation stretching from the Bight of Bonny to the Albertine Rift Valley, encompassing ten African countries and four gorilla sub-species on either side of the Congo Basin. But Gorillaland’s in trouble. Because of a lack of resources, gorilla populations are dwindling.
“Time to step up,” I thought, breathlessly struggling to lift myself on to the next ledge. Once there, I turned to gauge our progress against Nkuringo hill. We remained below it’s summit. Above us, dark clouds were gathering and the wind began to blow. We had so far been spared Bwindi’s infamous weather, but it looked as though things were about to take a turn for the worse. 
to be continued ...

Greg Cummings is an award-winning conservationist and published author. His novel Gorillaland is available on Amazon