Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Endangered gorillas prosper in heart of Africa

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian PARC NATIONAL DES VOLCANS, Rwanda (Reuters) - One hour's trek into the Rwandan rainforest, a crunching sound breaks the silence that hangs over the misty thick bush.

Slow and loud, it lasts for a few minutes, then stops abruptly. Suddenly a gorilla's face peers through the giant nettles to look at the tourists who have sweated along jungle trails to catch a glimpse of him and his family.

The 200-kg (440-lb) male, the silver-grey saddle on his back signaling maturity, studies his visitors.

Then, his curiosity satisfied, the mountain gorilla emerges from the bush, crawls to the top of a clearing on the lush mountainside and continues loudly chomping on his bamboo shoot.

A female follows and stretches out next to the silverback, keeping a careful eye on the intruders as her babies playfully fight, thumping their chests and rolling down the hill.

Their low-pitched grunts are answered in kind by a guide so both humans and gorillas know the others are just observing. "Look at those babies," one tourist marvels. "Aren't they amazing?"

Agashya and his family are among the world's 700-odd surviving mountain gorillas who live in their natural habitats in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Split between the Virunga volcanoes which straddle the borders of the three central African countries and Uganda's Bwindi National Park, the gorillas have actually seen their numbers increase in the last few years. Continued...

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