Friday, April 17, 2009

Review: Take a Walk on Your Wild Side

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Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey is an essential read for anyone interested in our environment and our footprint on it. While I wanted to read this book out of an interest in gorillas, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is really a personal narrative of a conservationist trying to save these gentle creatures.

The book opens with Dian Fossey as a young woman adventuring to Africa so that she may study gorillas. Fossey was a pioneer in her field. She bravely set up camp in the highest mountains of the Congo, with only a few African porters and a pet chicken for company. Her beautiful, detailed descriptions of her surroundings bring you in and allow you to feel like you, too, are among the gorillas. She meticulously studies and follows several groups of mountain gorillas. Fossey presents these groups as families with histories complete with familial drama. The longer you read into these gorillas lives, the line between you and them quickly begins to disappear. You begin to see yourself in them and them in you. They play; they mother their children; they sweat when they get nervous; they smile; they cry; and they are loyal. It is incredible to see the things you often consider so innately human in an animal relative.

If you previously took little interest in the environment, this book will change you. Once you are wrapped up in the gorillas’ stories, its is all too easy to want to protect them. You immediately see how our actions can completely destroy these creatures’ health and happiness. More than once during Fossey’s time in Africa, poachers, encouraged by the government, attempted to take infants to sell to a foreign zoo. The only way to do that, however, is to kill the majority of the clan. A group’s leader will die before he lets harm come to his family. These battles are violent and only leave you to question the history of every animal you’ve seen in a zoo. That’s really the most valuable part of this book: Fossey places the animals and their habitat in a history. Their lives are wrapped up in our personal goals and politics, while all they are trying to do is survive. This book is full of drama, comedy and struggle, all beautifuly grounded in Fossey’s enthralling narrative. Gorillas in the Mist is a wonderful journey of discovery that I recommend to all!

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