Cover image for In the kingdom of gorillas : fragile species in a dangerous land
In the kingdom of gorillas : fragile species in a dangerous land
Weber, William, 1950-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2001]

Physical Description:
384 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color), maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
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QL737.P96 W37 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
QL737.P96 W37 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"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 mountain 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."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Author Notes

Bill Weber 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. 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

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Dian Fossey brought world attention to Rwanda's endangered mountain gorillas in 1978, but the animals have survived largely because of the pioneering work of ecologists Weber and Vedder. Realizing that gorilla conservation was not a priority for a country facing staggering economic and development problems, they persuaded skeptical authorities that a program combining research, ecotourism and education could both protect these majestic primates and generate economy-boosting revenues. Their Mountain Gorilla Project, implemented over Fossey's objections, proved successful, with recent gorilla censuses showing dramatic population increases. Weber and Vedder's fascinating account of their years in Rwanda describes thrilling, sometimes heart-breaking gorilla encounters, and analyzes their painful relationships with Fossey with bracing honesty. But the book's larger, and more complex, subject is conservation in a war-ravaged postcolonial world struggling with increased competition for finite resources. Weber and Vedder ably portray Rwandan society, fraught with ethnic divisions and governmental corruption that not only threatened wildlife conservation but imperiled human safety. Their description of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis by Hutus based on reports from friends still in the country at the time is a chilling reminder that humans, too, are a fragile species. "We can't love animals or save wildlife," Weber and Vedder conclude, "without understanding the social, economic, and political context in which conservation occurs." Though they concede that "complete understanding [of a different culture] is a myth," they argue persuasively for continued efforts to this end. Agent, Gloria Loomis. (Oct. 4) Forecast: If ever a conservation book gets attention, this will be it. The combination of intimate primate portraits; sociopolitical observation; scientific conflict; successful, sustained activism; and intercultural cooperation, with the help of a four-city tour, will attract readers of many stripes. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

In the Kingdom of Gorillas is at once an engaging adventure story, a natural history of mountain gorillas, a documentation of several chapters of the Mountain Gorilla Project, and a history of social conflict and conservation efforts in Rwanda. Weber and Vedder document their 18 years of experience working in Africa, beginning with their stint as Peace Corps volunteers in the Congo, through their years of research on mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey, and ending with their current conservation efforts in Africa as part of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Weber and Vedder's account provides a refreshing and detailed new perspective on the years of research on mountain gorillas at the Karisoke Research Station in Rwanda under the direction of Dian Fossey before her untimely death in 1985. Their story is engaging, well written, and filled with personal details. Weber and Vedder conclude with an account of the more recent political conflict in Rwanda but paint an optimistic portrait of its effect on mountain gorilla populations, conveying their optimism and passion for conservation with fervor. Highly readable; suitable for general readers and lower-division undergraduates through faculty. L. Swedell CUNY Queens College

Booklist Review

In 1978 a young American couple traveled to Rwanda to study mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey. The following 23 years brought poachers, Fossey's murder, and the bloody Rwandan genocide, but through it all the gorillas preserved their quiet lives. This exciting chronicle of field research conducted in extremely harsh terrain will open the reader's eyes to the difficulties of science in a wilderness area. Weber and Vedder write evocatively of the discoveries they made, the joys of sitting with the gorillas and observing their behavior, and interactions with their local Rwandan guides and fellow researchers. This is contrasted with their horror at discovering gorillas massacred by poachers. Their candid views of the difficult and neurotic Fossey show the disintegration of a once great scientist and demonstrate why the authors took a different and ultimately successful path in protecting the gorillas. The final chapters, describing the civil war in Rwanda and the resulting slaughter of the Tutsi minority make even more miraculous the fact that all sides during the conflict left the gorillas alone. A marvelously thoughtful account. --Nancy Bent

Library Journal Review

Here is the long-awaited update to the fate of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, as written by the married couple who joined Dian Fossey at her Karisoke research facility in the late 1970s. Although Fossey's is the more familiar name owing to her groundbreaking contact with the gorilla and subsequent grief over their deaths because of poaching, Weber and Vedder have ultimately accomplished far more to insure their survival. Unlike Fossey, they believe that the key to saving the gorilla is to create an ecotourism program that will benefit the Rwandan people. Much of the book is a detailed account of both field research and the political challenges of establishing the Mountain Gorilla Project, but the final chapters are devoted to a chilling portrait of mass genocide in the early 1990s. This important book is a case study in how conservation must be grounded in the realities of people: "We can't love animals or save wildlife without understanding the social, economic, and political context in which conservation occurs." Highly recommended for both academic and public libraries. Beth Clewis Crim, Prince William P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The View from Bukavu to be trained as the first teachers sent to Congo, which was then known as Zaire. Our arrival in Africa was more eventful than expected. En route from London to begin our Peace Corps training in eastern Congo, we were scheduled to land in the Rwandan capital of Kigali and change planes for a short hop over the border to Bukavu. An overnight coup in Rwanda had closed the airport, however, and we were forced to make an unannounced landing at Uganda's Entebbe airport. This was not a reassuring prospect at a time when Field Marshal, General, and Dictator-for-Life Idi Amin Dada was ruling the former "Black Pearl of Africa" with an increasingly erratic and ruthless hand. Worse, Amin himself was due at the airport at any moment to welcome President Bongo of Gabon. After quickly refueling, we took off and headed west toward Congo. As Lake Victoria shimmered below in the early morning sun, our mood relaxed - until the pilot announced that we had been told to return to the airport. We later learned that Amin had seen our plane lift off and scrambled two MiGs to reinforce the order to return. Back on the ground, we watched as our suitcases, trunks, backpacks, and guitars were thrown from the cargo hold onto the runway. Ugandan security agents then collected our passports and ordered us to join our belongings on the hot pavement below. There, we were surrounded by at least twenty khaki-clad soldiers bearing AK-47s and persistent scowls. Parental premonitions about the foolhardiness of our African adventure began to seem all too real. After two hours of exposure to the equatorial sun, we were ordered inside the small bunkerlike building that passed for Uganda's international airport. Within three years, its layout would be printed on the front page of every major newspaper in the aftermath of the Israelis' "Raid on Entebbe" to rescue a planeload of their own citizens seized by terrorists. Our experience was far less dramatic. We spent more than fifty hours of tension-filled boredom, talking among ourselves, nibbling at a suspect mix of green beans, green French fries, and green meat of unknown origin, while drinking rationed supplies of warm Bell lager beer. Ugandan airport workers cast furtive glances our way and rarely spoke. The few who dared to break the silence asked us not to judge their country by this incident. Our curious captivity included the right to watch the Ugandan national news on the airport bar TV each evening. There we learned that we were "mercenaries bound to destabilize Rwanda." This was a strange charge to pin on a group of 112 young Americans, two-thirds of whom were women. To document the threat, Amin appeared in person early on the second morning to take a picture of our increasingly ragtag band with an Instamatic camera that looked ridiculously small in his beefy hands. It fell to President Mobutu Sese Seko of Congo to convince Amin that he was holding nothing more than a group of volunteer schoolteachers. Early on our third day, we were released and flown to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. Meanwhile, the July 5 coup in Rwanda proved to be bloodless, with no outside interference and apparently little internal resistance. Diplomats would later describe the event as a peaceful transition of power from a stagnant clique of southern Rwandan Hutu to their more dynamic cousins from the northern volcanoes region. We paid little attention to such details at the time. We would learn much more about the regional politics of Rwanda in the years to come. By some stroke of fate, we were assigned to teach at a small school along the shores of Lake Kivu, partway between the town of Bukavu, where we had received our Peace Corps training, and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, where we had first seen wild gorillas. We shared a house in Bukavu with another volunteer named Craig Sholley. Sitting on our front porch most afternoons, we watched dramatic storms sweep across the vast expanse of Lake Kivu, its picturesque islands framed by imposing mountains on all sides. The pulsing red glow of the Nyiragongo volcano dominated the evening sky, about seventy-five miles to the north. To the east, the Congo-Nile Divide rose to ten thousand feet to form the rugged backbone of Rwanda. The border with Rwanda was ten minutes from our house, but in the immediate wake of the coup it was rarely open. Congolese and Rwandan residents crossed back and forth between the border towns of Bukavu and Cyangugu, but foreigners were generally not welcome. When Rwanda did open its doors, visitors were required to be clean-shaven, short-haired, and well dressed. We joked that this would assure that no one but CIA agents could enter. Rumors held that ancient tribal animosities and other dark secrets were shielded by the closed border and Rwanda's perpetual cloud cover. Most young travelers who reached Bukavu while wandering across Africa were left to imagine Rwanda's attractions - including the exotic Nyungwe Forest, where an especially potent form of marijuana was cultivated by the mountain forest dwellers for whom Pygmy Thunder was named. Far to the north, a reclusive American woman was said to live alone among the mountain gorillas that made their home in the Virunga volcanoes. In 1974, we received our only firsthand look at the country during a short transit drive through Rwanda to neighboring Burundi, in the company of an American diplomat. Compared to Congo, it seemed a much less developed country, a simple society where earthen huts with thatched roofs dotted an overwhelmingly agrarian landscape. On that Sunday, though, Rwanda's dirt roads were filled with people: drab men in secondhand Western suits, accompanied by women in flowing robes of dazzling colors. We wondered if they were Hutu or Tutsi. Adrien deSchryver was chief warden of the Kahuzi-Biega park. Six years earlier, when Congo's bloody civil war raged around Bukavu, deSchryver was a one-man force for law and order within the park. Poachers had already killed his brother and narrowly missed Adrien himself. Born in Congo (when it was a Belgian colony), with a Congolese wife and family, he was single-mindedly committed to the park and its gorillas. These were eastern lowland gorillas, or Grauer's gorillas as they were sometimes known from their scientific name Gorilla gorilla graueri. They were one of three recognized subspecies of gorilla. The lowland gorillas of west-central Africa were much more numerous, whereas the mountain gorillas on the other side of Lake Kivu were considered the most endangered of the three. But no one really knew how many eastern lowland gorillas existed in the Kahuzi-Biega park, let alone across their range in the surrounding Kivu highlands. DeSchryver wanted a census of the gorillas. He also wanted assistance with his effort to habituate Casimir's group and other gorillas for tourism viewing, which he felt was the only way to save the park from intensive poaching. We had discussed our interest in conservation during earlier visits, but were pleasantly shocked when he asked if we would help with the census and tourism. We jumped at the chance. The Peace Corps was supportive, too, agreeing to fund our positions in Kahuzi-Biega as long as we finished our original two-year commitment as teachers. In many ways, we were fortunate that we began our work in Africa as teachers. If we had started in conservation, with strong pressure to save some park or species, we might have been quickly pulled into adversarial positions with local people and government officials. Instead, teaching brought us into constant contact with Africans and their view of the world. We saw how our students learned and came to understand reasoning and values that shaped their perceptions. We gained firsthand experience working with the dysfunctional Congolese education bureaucracy - and saw how pervasive corruption could crush individual initiative at a very young age. We became fluent in French and learned Swahili, a regional Bantu language that opened up a rich and rewarding world of contact with the large majority of local people who spoke no European language. Most of all, we were able to take our time and absorb the African way of life and culture that surrounded us. We tried to follow the advice of a Jesuit priest who had addressed our Peace Corps group toward the end of our formal training. You will see many strange and different things over the next two years, he said. Always keep a question mark in front of your eyes and ask "why" before you judge something you see as wrong just because it is different. It was excellent advice. During the summer break between school years, we traveled overland by truck, boat, train, and bus to Tanzania and Kenya. There we saw the incomparable wildlife spectacles of the East African plains. We traveled and camped in ten different parks in habitats ranging from mountains to deserts and savanna grasslands to coral reefs. Our commitment to the cause of conservation grew even stronger. Yet our East African experience also reinforced our perceptions from Congo that local Africans gained little from tourism, while absorbing almost all of the direct costs of conservation. They were prohibited from hunting and other forms of traditional use on lands declared as parks, yet most conservation-related jobs went to people from outside the local area. Park revenues flowed straight into central government coffers. We wondered how Africa's vast biological wealth could survive in the face of overwhelming human poverty and growing pressures for economic development. It was a haunting concern. Like any important challenge, it was also an opportunity. We had originally thought that only Amy, with her degree in biology, could do serious conservation science. Faced with pressing questions of local perceptions and the true costs and benefits of conservation, Bill saw how his social science background was equally relevant. All that was left was to convince others that a multidisciplinary approach to conservation - one that considered the needs of both people and wildlife - was worthy of support. Such an approach was certainly needed around Kahuzi-Biega, and we felt that it would be of value everywhere we had been during our African travels. In mid-1975, we returned to the United States to secure an affiliation with an appropriate graduate school. We chose the University of Wisconsin because of its strong tradition in conservation that stretched back to John Muir and Aldo Leopold, and its excellent field biology program, which had produced the world's foremost gorilla expert at that time, George Schaller. Wisconsin also had initiated a radical new program that offered an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in applied conservation science, perfect for Bill's interests. We intended to take a few courses in our respective programs, absorb as much as we could from faculty and fellow students, and return to Congo after one semester. Complications arose between the Peace Corps and the Congolese park service, though, and our return was delayed. Fortunately, a fellow grad student named Tag Demment had discussed our background and interests with Richard Wrangham, a rising star at that time in the field of primatology. Richard had just returned from a short stay at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, where Dian Fossey was studying endangered mountain gorillas. Richard called to tell us that our applied work on gorillas and the problems confronting them would be of great value if carried out in Rwanda. That there was a need didn't surprise us. But his contention that Dian Fossey would welcome our work didn't fit with what we had heard about the strange recluse of Rwanda. Richard acknowledged her "eccentricities" - an extreme understatement, we would learn, even by his British standards - but reiterated the need. When Wrangham secured a written statement of interest from Fossey, we modified our proposal to fit Rwandan circumstances and sought financial support. In 1977, there were only two U.S.-based conservation groups with significant international programs: the World Wildlife Fund and the Wildlife Conservation Society (then known as the New York Zoological Society). At the time, WWF was considered to have a more applied focus and we approached them first. In a private meeting in Madison, however, a senior WWF official regretfully told us that he had discussed the gorillas' plight with Fossey and concluded that "the situation was hopeless." This was a serious blow to our funding prospects, but also a spur to get to Rwanda before it truly was too late to help the gorillas. We were not confident that our proposal to the Wildlife Conservation Society would be well received. WCS was certainly interested in gorillas: they had funded George Schaller's pioneering study almost twenty years earlier and had given some initial support to Fossey in the late 1960s. Part of our research would appeal to them, with its biological focus on feeding ecology, habitat use, and population dynamics: all essential factors in the mountain gorilla's survival equation. The "people" side of that equation was another matter, however. While we were convinced that social and economic factors were just as important as those in the biological realm, this was not a widely held belief in the world of conservation in the 1970s. Fortunately, WCS proved itself not bound by tradition, nor daunted by the task at hand. In September 1977, we received our full request of $11,850 for an eighteen-month project. All we needed was final clearance from Fossey and the Rwandans. In October, we met Dian Fossey for the first time, at a hotel restaurant in Chicago. We were joined by another prospective researcher named David Watts. It was an awkward dinner, as Dian made small talk and watched the three of us eat while barely touching her own main course of grilled fish. She did, however, unwrap and consume at least a dozen pats of butter during the meal. She also dumped the entire bowl of sugar cubes into her handbag on leaving the table. Back in her room, Dian stretched out her six-foot-two frame on her bed, put on her reading glasses, and began to read our proposal out loud. She stopped occasionally to comment on minor points but raised no substantive concerns - except to note in passing that ecology was boring and that work with local people was hopeless. At the end of the evening, we set a tentative arrival date and asked if there was anything else we needed to do, such as requesting authorization for our work from the Rwandan park service. Dian said she would take care of everything. Excerpted from In The Kingdom Of Gorillas by Bill Weber, Amy Vedder Copyright © 2001 by Bill Weber and Amy Vedder Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. 11
Guide to African Words, Names, and Placesp. 13
Section 1 Under the Gun
1. The View from Bukavup. 19
2. Why Are You Here?p. 26
3. Mwezap. 39
4. Close Encountersp. 47
5. A Swamp Runs Through Itp. 63
6. Gorillas by the Numbersp. 73
7. Massacrep. 83
Section 2 Pieces in the Puzzle
8. Final Countp. 93
9. Life in a Salad Bowlp. 104
10. Sex Changes and Songfestsp. 115
11. Island Refuge in a Rising Tidep. 122
12. Filters and Perspectivesp. 132
13. The Cattle Are Comingp. 139
Section 3 The Mountain Gorilla Project
14. Crazy White Peoplep. 149
15. Leep. 158
16. Moving the Mountainp. 162
17. White Apes and Ecotouristsp. 174
18. Limits and Reservationsp. 184
19. Across the Virungasp. 196
20. Why God Created Gorillasp. 202
21. Food, Cameras, Actionp. 209
22. Moving Onp. 216
Section 4 Along the Congo-Nile Divide
23. Where Have All the Cattle Gone?p. 227
24. Another Virunga Deathp. 234
25. Rwelekanap. 256
26. Nyungwep. 262
27. In the Shadow of the Virungasp. 275
28. Living in Rwandap. 288
29. Ten Years Afterp. 298
Section 5 In the Face of Madness
30. The Cauldron Churnsp. 311
31. Genocidep. 324
32. Aftermathp. 336
Section 6 Myths and Realities
33. Tarnished Notionsp. 353
34. Pablop. 363
Indexp. 371