Friday, 20 May 2016

What happened to the gorillas who met David Attenborough?

Sir David Attenborough's encounter with a family of mountain gorillas is one of the most iconic TV moments of his career so far. But what became of the other characters in those famous scenes?

By Ian Redmond
12 May 2016

The family of gorillas that Sir David met was in fact two families, known to the scientists who studied them as Group 4 and Group 5. They roamed the forest-clad slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda, close to and sometimes over the border with what was then Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know

It was January 1978 when the 'Life on Earth' film crew arrived at The Karisoke Research Centre right in the middle of a crisis – Digit, a young silverback in Group 4, had been speared to death by poachers a few days prior to the film crew's arrival.

Karisoke was then a collection of green corrugated iron cabins at 10,000 ft (3,000m), and at that point had been my home for 14 months. As a newly graduated biologist, it had been my great good fortune to be taken on as Dr Dian Fossey's research assistant. The work involved tracking the gorillas each day to make observations on their behaviour and ecology – and in my case, their parasites because I am fascinated by all life forms – so I knew both groups well.

Unfortunately Dian was unwell and on top of that, grieving for the loss of one of her favourite gorillas. Nevertheless I could see Dian was thrilled at the prospect of the BBC coming to film her study animals.

She told me she had met David Attenborough in London once, but in the turbulent circumstances I was the one who was sent to pick up the film crew from the Rwandan capital Kigali and, once installed in the guest cabins, to introduce them to the gorillas – an experience that none of us will ever forget.

Let's look at three of the most memorable scenes in the 'Life on Earth' gorilla sequences and identify the gorilla characters.

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