Review

In the Kingdom of Gorillas: Fragile Species in a Dangerous Land

by Bill Weber and Amy Vedder



The poachers run rampant through their habitat, which is shrinking
rapidly due to the country's population and farm land. The country
itself, in the mid 1990s, exploded into a bloody civil war full of
atrocities and genocide. And yet, they are still alive. The
mountain gorilla, with its powerful and fiercely protective
silverback patriarchs to the helpless newborn infants cradled in
their mothers' arms, continues to hold on.

Amy Vedder and Bill Weber, who have promoted the cause of
conservation for the gorilla and its habitat for 25 years, help
them hold on. In 1978 Weber and Vedder went to Rwanda to study
mountain gorillas with the famed and emotionally unstable
naturalist Dian Fossey. The Parc des Volcans in the Virunga
Mountains, a major mountain gorilla stronghold, is slated for
development. They can't let this happen and so establish, with
others, the Mountain Gorilla Project while studying our cousins in
the forest ridges and bamboo thickets, thus coming into contact
with one of the most powerful animals the world.

IN THE KINGDOM OF GORILLAS takes the reader into those places most
of us will never get and shows us things we will probably never
see. We read of the various family groups and the good and the bad
that happens to them. How they make nightly nests of leaves and
twigs, how they groom and play with each other, how they protect
their families, how they get caught in hunters' traps and scream
for escape, and how they fall to the hands of poachers ---
daughters lost, brothers dead.

We also learn of Rwanda and its people. The Mountain Gorilla
Project was designed to educate the people of Rwanda, where many
gorillas live, about the importance of conservation, while at the
same time establishing an ecotourism project to bring desperately
needed revenue to Rwanda. Not an easy proposition --- why save a
mountain gorilla when it's hard enough to save our children from an
empty stomach? And so the herding of cattle continues to grow in
the region, and the poachers continue to run rampant through the
gorilla's habitat, which may shed some light on the life and murder
of Dian Fossey:

"As her health declined through the 1970s, Dian's behavior become
increasingly aberrant...Her first responses to illegal cattle
grazing near Karisoke were crudely creative. Sneaking up on one
group of herders, she jumped out of the bushes wearing a grotesque
Halloween mask that set the grown men to fright...Later she shot at
least one cow and held dozens of cattle for ransom. She kidnapped
at least one herdboy."  Torture was common for the poachers.
Paranoia was common for Dian Fossey. Thinking that other
researchers would top her as "Gorilla Expert," she spied and
schemed. Her murder, still unsolved, was probably at the hands of a
poacher.

Weber and Vedder's book doesn't blow a reader away with its
sparkling narrative and emotional force. It's a general science
book, catering to a wide audience. But the story of the gorilla is
sparking with emotional force, and the chronicling of their plight
and their growing success (the gorilla populations are the highest
they've been since the 1960s) makes for an informative and
ennobling story.

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 22, 2011

In the Kingdom of Gorillas: Fragile Species in a Dangerous Land
by Bill Weber and Amy Vedder

  • Publication Date: September 25, 2001
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743200063
  • ISBN-13: 9780743200066