We know the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, made famous by Dian Fossey and the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, but their western lowland gorilla cousins of central Africa have shied from human contact. In recent years Ebola has wiped out a third of these gorillas, making them even more elusive. Now the survival of the rainforest might rest on their shoulders. Gabon is home to probably the highest density of great apes in Africa. A team from Smithsonian’s Gabon Biodiversity Program, working with the Gabon government, is attempting to habituate the gorillas as the linchpin of a nascent ecotourism industry, as seen in Gorillas Of Gabon (Wednesday 26th August, 8pm)
Spearheading the effort is Matamba Kombila, who left Gabon aged 19 to pursue fashion and filmmaking in New York. But earning the trust of a silverback is a gruelling task that can take five years of daily contact. And first, you have to find one. Lead Smithsonian scientist Angelique Todd, who pioneered this process in Central African Republic, brings in legendary Bayaka trackers to hunt for the great apes—a seemingly impossible task in the dense jungle despite their impressive size. She and her team target a silverback named Mussiru — ’the forest’. As they gain his confidence they hope to discover more about his species, offering a rare glimpse of the jungle life of one of the biggest, most powerful and most susceptible creatures on our planet.