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The Gorillas of my Grandfather




Andreas von Beringe, a Viennese doctor, has never seen a live mountain gorilla and has never been to Africa, but as a child he was fascinated by tales of his grandfather's adventures. Exactly one century ago, Captain von Beringe had been the leader of an official expedition to the Virunga Volcanoes in today's Rwanda. He became the first European to encounter and describe mountain gorillas. We will take grandson Andreas on a trip to retrace the route of that expedition and relive, his grandfather's diary in hand, that memorable encounter with the hindsight of one hundred years of dramatic human-gorilla relations.

Captain Robert von Beringe brought back to Europe the first historical documentation of mountain gorillas in 1902.This is how he describes his first sighting of gorillas: ''We were able to watch a herd of big, black monkeys which tried to climb the crest of the volcano. We succeeded in killing two of these animals'' -- to take back to the Berlin Natural History Museum.

Inspired by Beringe's report, the NewYork Natural sent CarlAkeley to Virunga in 1921 to shoot 5 gorillas for a diorama exhibit. He documented his trip with still photographs and a self-built 35 mm movie camera.

In 1959, George and Kay Schaller conducted the first exhaustive field study of mountain gorillas. The two of them will come back to Virunga with us, go years after having lived with the gorillas in the forest and getting so close to them that they ''got into their daily routine ..., trying to adapt to their rhythm of life. The book published by the Schallers is still considered the '' bible '' of mountain gorillas.

In 1963, Dian Fossey entered the scene. She dedicated her life to the gorillas, drew the world's attention to their plight of losing habitat and security and, in the end, succumbed in the conflict between the gorillas whose side she took and a human world she no longer regarded as her own. Today, conservationists and researchers again pick up the threads and re-establish contact with the gorillas of Virunga. Now, on the 100th anniversary of their discovery by Captain Robert von Beringe, we know that if we ever turn our backs on the mountain gorillas, they will be gone.
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