The mountain gorillas have known it for a while. Eastern DRC is kak.
As their numbers dwindled to a few hundred – slaughtered for meat, ashtrays and funsies – they have taken refuge in the slightly safer regions of Rwanda and Uganda. Here, the volcanoes are inactive and the locals have less blood lust. Likewise the gorillas, far from being seen as furry table ornaments on legs, have assumed celebrity status – bringing in more money to these military coffers than a decades supply of sorghum. Here, their greatest threat is being poked in the eye by an Americans telephoto lens.
We share a lot with these benevolent, furry giants. Our genes, for example. 98,5% of them according to new genetic research. Then there are our behavioral traits. Just five minutes watching their juveniles cavort, adolescents swagger and adults exasperate will give Creationists plenty to think about. Then there is our plight. Both people and gorillas in this region have had it rough. If the columns of Congolese refugees pouring down the road towards us into the Kisoro Refugee Camp wasn’t enough to convince us of this, then the thunderous mortar fire just a few kilometres over the border certainly did. And just like our genetically similar cousins, we grunted, hosed down our immediate surroundings with diarrhoea and bolted.
In a region as tumultuous as the Virunga Volcanoes it’s no small miracle that these creatures still exist at all. Especially after more than two decades of ongoing violence and upheaval, and when rebel factions are led by people nicknamed ‘The Terminator’. It’s pretty sobering to realise that we are, in fact, just like our counterparts who face an horrifically uncertain future in this region. The main difference being that very few tourists will spend 500 dollars for an hour observing refugees mill around their smelly camp.
I suppose it’s in our nature to focus on happy, life-affirming things rather than death, destruction and rebel leaders with terrifying names. In this too, the gorillas are just like us – they frolic blissfully in the afternoon sun, scratching their bellies and beating their chests, completely unaware of the shit storm around them. It is probably for the best. They, like us, are born survivors.