When Bill Weber and Amy Vedder arrived in Rwanda to study mountain gorillas with Dian Fossey, the gorilla population was teetering toward extinction. Poaching was rampant, but it was loss of habitat that most endangered the gorillas. Weber and Vedder realized that the gorillas were doomed unless something was done to save their forest home. Over Fossey's objections, they helped found the Mountain Gorilla Project, which would inform Rwandans about the gorillas and the importance of conservation, while at the same time establishing an ecotourism project -- one of the first anywhere in a rainforest -- to bring desperately needed revenue to Rwanda. In the Kingdom of Gorillas introduces readers to entire families of gorillas, from powerful silverback patriarchs to helpless newborn infants. Weber and Vedder take us with them as they slog through the rain-soaked mountain forests, observing the gorillas at rest and at play. Today the population of mountain gorillas is the highest it has been since the 1960s, and there is new hope for the species' fragile future even as the people of Rwanda strive to overcome ethnic and political differences.
After hearing Weber and Vedder give a fascinating talk at the American Museum of Natural History, it was only a matter of finding the time to read their account of working with endangered Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda. Besides discussing the gorilla populations, the book covers the Webers’ initial work with Dian Fossey at Karisoke at Parc des Volcans in the Virunga Mountains, the growing problems with work with the erratic Fossey that forced them to set up the Mountain Gorilla Project (Hence the split, that still exists to this date, that results in there being the Mountain Gorilla Project, a conservation program meshed with eco-tourism and local economic sustainable development programs, and the Dian Fossey Fund (originally the Digit Fund) that funds work on gorilla research.), and the struggles with the growth of MGP, as well as gives details on Rwanda, including a personal perspective on the ethnic tensions that led to the genocide in 1994. The book is a fairly quick read and is recommended to all who want an understanding of our close cousins, the Mountain Gorillas, as well as to those who want to read about a modern-day conservation success-story or are looking for something positive to read about Rwanda after reading Gourevitch’s harrowing We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Tales from Rwanda.
I picked this up to see more of Dian Fossey & her gorillas. In it I found the gorillas and their growth. Weber and Vedder give a far more detailed picture of life at Karisoke, life in Rwanda, & about various conservation projects. They discuss the need for education in conservation and how they attempted to tackle that. There is a section about AIDS. The last part of the book covers the Rwandan genocide and how outside foreign countries contributed to setting the stage for it as well as ignored the plight of these people. I liked the fuller picture of the country here that I didn’t find in Mowat’s work (which was a biography on Fossey) or in Fossey’s work (which was more descriptions of active conservationism & gorilla discussions).
I could have done with out the Dian Fossey trash talk. They basically paint her as an inept drunk with no interests other than her own self interests. The attack on her character probably had some kernels of truth to it. I mean, in her own autobiography Fossey does admit to kidnapping a poacher’s child in the name of conservation. That said, they presented a lot of speculation with their comments on her character.
This book had me completely riveted. Reading the authors' stories about their life with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda must be the next best thing to being there - possibly better, because it's warmer and dryer here at home, and they write quite well. I was seriously inspired by their unflagging energy and dedication, in the face of endless obstacles, to developing realistic conservation plans that are good for wildlife and also for Rwanda and its people. I was also fascinated by their cultural experiences as Americans in Rwanda. I am glad they devoted quite a bit of space to Rwanda's history and the events leading up to the 1994 genocide; I read those parts with great interest, and they also served to underscore that many conservation efforts must contend with difficult social and political contexts. Be warned: some parts of this book had me crying on the bus. Tears literally rolling down my face in public!
Recently reviewed from reading at least 8 years ago. It definitely left an impression and an ambition to get to Rwanda (which I have now done).....if you are going to Rwanda or want to, or you are interested in great apes and/or conservation I definitely recommend this book. It is a great acount of ecotourism in action and being successful.
I read this book at a time when I was really into primatology, Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall studies, etc. I particularly liked the last section of the book where Veder and Weber dig deeper into the tribal conflicts and ethnic genocide in Rwanda.