38 years ago, Dian Fossey wrote about her encounters with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, offering a first fascinating peek at how these elusive apes behave in the wild. National Geographic published her account in the January 1970 issue of the magazine, and just republished it this month, along with the original memorable photos, on the NatGeo website, to coincide with the July cover story "Who Murdered the Virunga Gorillas?" Fossey's patient, painstaking work with mountain gorillas convinced the world that these gentle, intelligent creatures were worth protecting, and years later a successful mountain gorilla tourism program was born in Virunga National Park, bringing income and education to local people who trained as wildlife rangers and trackers, and allowed carefully limited views of the gorillas in their native habitat. That success was shattered last year when seven mountain gorillas, known and loved by tourists and the rangers, were mysteriously and inexplicably murdered.
Despite this setback, several nonprofits are still actively helping to protect the gorillas and the rangers, including the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. I happened across a blog by McGill University student Sarah Conner from Montreal, who landed a plum internship in Rwanda this summer working for Fossey's foundation. She'll be reporting "on all the programs that Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International helps fund. So I am going to visit all the schools, clinics, and biodiversity programs and interview those involved." She's got great photos, and you can follow along with her here. More about the Virunga gorillas, and an upcoming National Geographic Channel documentary about them, here.
UPDATE: A new video about the gorilla murders is now available on the National Geographic site.
Photo: baby mountain gorilla by Tristan 27 via Intelligent Travel Flickr pool.