A First Encounter

About the Author

Paul Thomson worked with African Wildlife Foundation in Nairobi for a year before moving to Washington D.C. Paul has worked at the Madrid Aquarium and at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands outside San Francisco. He was born in New Zealand but grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Pa ... More

I just arrived in Rwanda and am thrilled to be back in mountain gorilla territory - montane forests thick and misty as clouds. Everyone here is gearing up for Kwita Izina, an annual gorilla-naming ceremony modeled after the age-old Rwandan tradition of naming children. More on that later; I'm excited to trek into the forests and see these beautiful primates. I am reminded of Dian Fossey's passage from Gorillas in the Mist:

I shall never forget my first encounter with gorillas. Sound preceded sight. Odor preceded sound in the form of an overwhelming musky-barnyard, humanlike scent. The air was suddenly rent by a high-pitched series of screams followed by the rhythmic rondo of sharp pok-pok chestbeats from a great silverback male obscured behind what seemed an impenetrable wall of vegetation.... Immediately I was struck by the physical magnificence of the huge jet-black bodies blended against the green palette wash of the thick forest foliage. -- Dian Fossey, 1983