New Gorilla Babies in Virunga National Park

News | 21/04/09

I wanted to share something with you that gives me hope. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in our work and our own daily struggles and challenges that we forget what is really important. Then, something makes us pause, and we realize why we are doing what we do.

The other day was a typical day in the office for me: email and more email. Answering the seemingly endless stream of questions which stack up in my email in-box like bricks, waiting for some mortar to make them whole, give them a purpose.

As the Communications Officer at IGCP, my job is, well, mainly to communicate. Which means a lot of time on the computer writing, editing and reaching out to the public, our partners, government agencies, the worldwide media and more on the work that we do and why mountain gorilla conservation is vital to not only the people of Virunga Massif in East Africa where the gorillas live, but those in places far away, where our endangered next of kin may be just a concept too remote to even consider.

Though I still doubt my skills, I consider myself at least an “advanced amateur” writer, and it is easy to get bogged down in all the correspondence and minutiae of making sure everyone receives quality information. Hidden in my voluminous in-box the other day was a short query from our Conservation Science Officer and Democratic Republic of Congo Representative Augustin Basabose. Dr. Basabose is almost always smiling, and his positive outlook and never ending energy has done wonders in the Eastern DRC and Virunga National Park’s Mikeno Sector, where the gorillas have been holding strong despite the long standing conflict and chaos in the area – which currently, thankfully, has subsided and the outlook for peace has garnered much excitement.

I admit Dr. Basbose’s thorough and much valued reports often make my head spin. As a mere writer and policy person, the formulas and numbers of careful peer-reviewed research often escape me.

But on this occasion, the query was as simple as can be, “Did you get the photos I sent of Bonane and her new baby?” I went back a week and realized that email had just gotten lost in the mountain I was attempting in vain to answer after being out of the office a few days. I opened the message again, and suddenly a big smile beamed across my face, like morning sun shining golden after the gloom of a day of intemperate clouds and driving rain. A golden sun, albeit one that is fragile, has come to the Eastern Congo in the past few months after the dark days of conflict in years past. And here was Bonane, a proud mother who has survived the Congo’s unrest, cuddling a precious, furry, healthy baby, content, and it looked like to me, even smiling broadly with her bundle of miraculous life.


And not only Bonane: here was Gato as well, sleeping peacefully with her new baby. Two bundles of life! Park Ranger Innocent Mburanumwe captured the joy and contentment of a mother and her precious offspring with the skill of a professional photographer.


As a respected gorilla conservation organization with a long-term record of achievements, IGCP must maintain our excellent record of scientific integrity and professionalism. But sometimes our emotional connection to our next of kin just takes over, and reminds us that indeed we are all sharing this earth together and the dawn of new life is something to celebrate. And yes, baby gorillas are cute!


The wonder of new life represents a new beginning: a bright future where our species and Gorilla beringei beringei live in harmony and grow together organically, supporting a healthy environment and future for all. Yes, it may be somewhat of a utopian view, and yes, the hard work, detailed science and need for impartiality and professionalism remains. But a picture can still say a thousand words and evoke a thousand emotions, and this is what the photos of Bonane and Gato and their babies did to me.

In the end, I believe, these emotional attachments and what they represent will be just as important to mountain gorilla conservation as the science and policy, rounding out a holistic approach to this great challenge which will in part determine the life we leave for future generations, such as those of Bonane’s and Gato’s babies (who have yet to be named) and their babies (the sex of the babies has not yet been determined, and it often takes a year or more of careful observation to do so).

This single set of pictures gave me hope, and I hope in turn they will find a tiny corner of your heart as well.  We should not hide the role of our emotional attachment to species such as the mountain gorilla. It is an integral part of our solutions and forward progress in protecting these species and our role in the web of life which makes our planet breathe. Enjoy!

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) currently consists of Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature. We recognise that the earth's survival is dependent on humanity's ability to maintain a healthy and balanced environment that includes all species of wildlife.