Tag Archives: mountain gorillas



I’m finally headed to Africa. I’ll travel to both Rwanda and Uganda with Edwin Sabuhoro, the young man I met after the July 2016 killing of Cecil the Lion. I leave Sunday, Feb. 10 and return home on Feb. 28th. My trip will be a jam-packed working trip with lots of people to meet, animals to see and information to gather.

In case you don’t recall my previous blog about Edwin, here’s the short version of who he is.
Edwin grew up in the relatively small country of Rwanda in Central Africa. He was just a baby when the fourth and worst genocide broke out. Being of Tutsi origin, Edwin, his family, and relatives were the targets of the Hutu Government which casually authorized the 1994 Genocide during which nearly one million Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were bludgeoned to death leaving the land littered with bodies, parts of bodies and rivers of blood.

Edwin’s mother, siblings, and relatives fled Rwanda and traveled by foot to the safety of the refugee camps just inside the borders of  Uganda. At one point in their journey, the relatives feared that Edwin was slowing down the group. Edwin’s Mum carried him as she ran for her life. The consensus was that his Mum should throw Edwin into a river, so that the group could move faster. However, Edwin’s Mum would have none of it, as she trudged on carrying her sweet baby close to her bosom.

When Edwin grew up, he earned his law degree. As a lawyer, part of his responsibilities was to represent people on a pro-bono basis. When Edwin was asked to represent a Hutu man, who bludgeoned an entire family to death, Edwin abandoned the law. He subsequently began working as a park ranger in Volcanoes National Park where the endangered mountain gorillas live. Edwin fell in love with the gorillas and other animals as he sought to protect them from poaching.
Baby Gorilla
At one point, the rangers caught wind of a baby gorilla which had been captured and was up for sale to the highest bidder. Edwin volunteered to pose as a buyer. Once the exchange was made, the poachers were captured, and the baby was returned to his home. Edwin described to me what he felt when he peered into the burlap bag carrying the captured gorilla. He was overwhelmed with compassion and wonder at the big brown eyes staring back at him.

Over the next few days, Edwin thought about the poachers. He could tell they were not wealthy. Instead, they were ordinary males who lived in a local village. Edwin couldn’t shake the gnawing in his gut as he felt guilty for helping to put these men in jail. So, he did something remarkable.

Instead of brushing off his empathy for the men, he became more curious about them and especially the reasons why they worked as poachers. So, he got in his car and drove to the village. There he sat down with one of the more elderly males and asked him, “Why do you poach?”

They were sitting outside at the time and there were many children playing close by. Thus, the man made a sweeping gesture with his arm as he said, “We do it to feed our children.” In other words, the reasons were economically based. The poachers had no other means of earning a living. Being a logical,  compassionate human, Edwin immediately understood.

When Edwin left the village, he couldn’t stop thinking of the man he met and the trapped lifestyle the villagers were living. So, he came up with a plan to help the village provide food for their people via different methods. Edwin had a savings account which he emptied, giving the money to the to the village males as he discussed his idea with them. They would use the money to rent farm land where they could grow their food. Within six months the village was producing enough food for the village with a surplus of food to sell.

Note: The poachers and village population belonged to the third ethnic group in Rwanda, the Batwa. The Batwa are the original inhabitants of Rwanda. They are the indigenous population who, for generations, depended on the forest and its animals for sustenance

Two years later, Edwin helped the Batwa community establish a living history village to educate and entertain visitors to the park where the gorillas reside. The hamlet is called Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. While in Rwanda, Edwin and I will spend one and one-half days in the Village talking to the people, including the ex-poachers who now pride themselves as the guardians of the gorillas.  Best of all, we’ll also visit the mountain gorillas.

Because of Edwin’s efforts to save the endangered mountain gorillas and change the lives of the Batwa who poached the gorillas, in 2015 he was nominated for the coveted award of CNN Hero of the Year.

I met Edwin back in 2016, shortly after the death of Cecil the Lion who was murdered by an American dentist, Walter Palmer. As were so many animal lovers, I was utterly shaken by the killing.

It was a deliberate kill, as Palmer’s guides dragged a carcass behind their jeep trying to coax Cecil from the protective boundaries of the park where he, his male friend, Jericho and Cecil’s family lived.

Walter Palmer was an avid Trophy Hunter. Trophy hunters deceive themselves into believing they are conservationists. How can a true conservationist kill a unique animal such as a lion?  They can’t morally and won’t. Palmer and all Trophy Hunters are nothing more than poachers. They poach for personal booty. Their plunder is the animal’s head, skin and other body parts all for two purposes: bragging rights and to hang as evidence the trophy head on a wall in their coveted trophy room.

I sent Edwin a friend request which he immediately accepted. Then, one evening, after learning, via Facebook that he lived “up the highway from me,” I sent an instant message to him. We began talking that evening. I was excited to have found such a remarkable human as he explained to me that he was a CNN 2015 hero of the year nominee and that he was currently earning his Doctorate in Conservation and Tourism at Clemson University. I don’t recall what it was I said, but I evidently mentioned that I was a writer. I was typing away when my eye caught a sentence in his last message. He wrote, “You’re a writer? I’m looking for someone to write my autobiography.” I stopped cold as my eyeballs leapt out of my head, hit the screen of my computer, then bounced back into my sockets. My heart stopped as I said out loud, “Oh my God!” And so, our story began.

While I’m away, I plan to blog every day. My next-door neighbor suggested I do that, so she could keep up with me. I thought that was a great idea as well, because, in addition to my written notes and those I record via two hand held recorders, my blog could add to my notes especially since they will be written in real time, capturing my emotions which I know will be abundant.

If you care to follow me while I’m away, I’ll post a link on my website, http://www.maribethshanley.com. My first post, I will publish before I leave on the 10th, will be the itinerary Edwin has prepared for my eighteen-day visit.

I hope you to join me on my journey into beautiful Africa!


Filed under Maribeth Shanley, Travel, writing

Mr. Silverback and Me, Oh My! by Carole Howard

Of all the trips I’ve taken and places I’ve been, there’s one breathtaking moment that’s in a class by itself.  It was in the aptly-named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, where half the world’s 700 mountain gorillas live.  We were tracking them.

Our group had hiked uphill for two hours in the heat, accompanied by two rangers and two baby-faced uniformed guards with semi-automatic weapons.  (The weapons had to do with the other kind of guerillas.  Reassuring?  Not exactly.) We were lucky; some groups had to hike a lot longer than two hours before finding the gorillas. The hillsides, largely tea plantations, were the brightest yellow-green I’d ever seen in the natural world, almost fluorescent.

100_0213With no warning, the trackers shushed us. We got quiet. We looked around.  And there he was, the silverback mountain gorilla oh my oh my oh my. He was massive, much larger than I’d imagined, with a face just like the ones in National Geographic Magazine and a back that was true to his name. I was on his turf, with no barrier between us.  No bars, no moat, just twenty feet of cushiony forest floor. I was frightened and enthralled.  He seemed nonchalant.

I’d been told not to get closer than 20 feet.  Frankly, I didn’t know exactly what 20 feet, 100 feet, or 100 yards really looked like, but there was no chance I was going to go closer to a gorilla than anyone else in the group. I’d also been told we could only stay for one hour.  Interestingly, the third rule was that if we had a cold, we wouldn’t be permitted to go because gorillas and humans share much of their DNA and can transmit illnesses to each other.  Such inter-species transmission is called zoonosis (zoe-uh-NO-siss).

The permit had been expensive (especially from a price-per-minute point of view!) but our reasoning, thankfully, went like this:  There we were in Uganda, where the Uganda Wildlife Authority had a unique program of tracking and observing the three gorilla families they’d painstakingly habituated to small groups of humans.  They only issued 18 permits per day.  We’d probably never be back. Thank goodness for our next three words: Might as well.

The gorilla was surrounded by his family: females, babies, and younger males, about 20 in all.  They played, ate, swung from the many trees in the darkly-canopied forest, all the while grunting, laughing, squawking.  I was surrounded by the other silently-awed tourists in my group.

But everything – gorillas, gorilla noises, lush forest smell, tourists, forest – fell away. My heart was pumping hard and fast but, other than those beats, I heard nothing else, saw nothing else, thought about nothing else.  The universe, at that moment, consisted of Mr. Silverback and me.  It was the kind of peak experience that was a bubble in time.  For the gorilla, I’m sure, it was just another walk in the forest.

He turned and knuckle-walked away in slo-mo, while continuing to receive the branches and leaves the females brought him.  Out of my trance, I started worrying about what exposure to use on my camera, since flash photography was forbidden by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.  After a little while of camera-obsession, though, I decided to stop worrying about photographing an experience I was, after all, missing because of my trying to get a good picture of it.

Remember: I couldn't use a flash!

No zoom (and no flash)!

It wasn’t exactly as if I felt I was one of the gorillas.  I was 20 feet away, after all, and I was an observer, while they were observees.  But the experience was different from a zoo, different from a safari, different from observation through binoculars.  We were right there, where they lived. They were right there, doing whatever they would have been doing if we weren’t there.

That hour was a moment, and it passed faster than five minutes anywhere else.  My universe shrank to my immediate surroundings, yet, in the “feeling alive” category, it felt huge.  My husband called it a green cathedral, and so it was. Majestic and intimate.

*  *  *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.  She is working on a travel memoir (I Didn’t Know Squat: Volunteering in the Developing World After Retirement), from which this is an excerpt.


Filed under Travel, writing