Portrait Of A Silverback

One of the precious few remaining mountain gorillas, this silverback of the Humba Troop lives in Virunga National Park. It's estimated that there's less than 900 remaining mountain gorillas left in the wild - a number that is critically low.

You've probably heard by now the story of Harambe, the western lowland gorilla that was recently killed at the Cincinnati Zoo to save the life of a four year-old child who fell into his enclosure. This is both a tragic and sad event. The western lowland gorilla population is believed to be around 100,000. The number is orders of magnitude greater than the mountain gorilla, but they are both still critically endangered and face threats of poaching, habitat loss and disease among others.

What many people might not realize, is that when you go on a gorilla trek you'll be wearing a surgical face mask. It's not to protect you - it's to protect the gorillas from you. Disease can travel fast, and outbreaks of Ebola have decimated populations in the past. Not only that, but due to the social structures of gorillas, the toll on the population can take years to even start to grow again.

I personally have no love of zoos. Once you see an animal in the wild, seeing it in a zoo is so depressing. And what is the purpose of zoos anyways? Do you go there to learn something, or to be entertained in the same way you might enjoy a circus? It's great that kids can see animals they might not otherwise be able to see in person, but I'm not sure the benefits outweigh the costs, let alone the stresses it places on animals in captivity.

Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to dedicate time and resources to seeing animals the way they are meant to be seen - in their native habitats. I always encourage others to do the same. While most of the gorilla troops in Virunga National Park have been habituated towards humans, they are still wild animals, without a cage or a moat to define their territory. Coming within an arm's reach at times of these majestic animals is humbling. The size, speed, and power of a silverback is not to be questioned, but admired.