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Introduction It's a Wild Life In the late 1970s, the number of mountain gorillas in Africa had dropped dangerously low. So low, in fact, that they were about to disappear altogether. Amy Vedder wanted to save them. Fortunately, she was too young and too naive to think she couldn't do it. Amy is a wildlife biologist--she studies what makes animals tick. She went to Africa in 1978 intent on learning enough about mountain gorillas to keep them from becoming extinct. Not only did Amy help save the gorillas, she had the adventure of a lifetime. She even became an honorary member of a gorilla family! Amy also learned a lot about herself and her desire to protect wild animals from danger. Since then she has traveled around the world helping wildlife. One month she might be in Mongolia, learning how to protect endangered gazelles. The next month might find her closer to home, observing recovered wolves in Wyoming's Yellowstone National Park. Back in New York, she helps city kids visiting the Bronx Zoo learn about threatened wildlife and the need for conservation. Thanks to Amy's hard work, many animal populations have grown stronger. Their habitats have become protected parks-- and that makes Amy feel good. How did Amy Vedder get into the business of saving wildlife? Simple: She followed her instincts, and they led her to science. ix
How did Amy get into the business of saving wildlife? Simple: She followed her instincts, and they led her to science.
1 CLOSE ENCOUNTER A bone-chilling rain poured over Amy Vedder as she huddled on the forest floor, surprised by what had just happened. Perched under her arm sat a four-year-old mountain gorilla named Pablo. All his life Pablo had turned to Mountain gorilla his mother for shelter from stormy weather. Now, abandoned, Pablo (above) was four years old when he seemed to have decided that Amy--the white ape in a he tried to "adopt" raincoat--would be a fitting stand-in mother. wildlife biologist Amy Just moments earlier Amy had noticed that Pablo was acting Vedder (opposite) in Rwanda, Central strange. He was walking toward her with his chin lowered. This Africa, in 1978. Amy's was not his usual "run by and give her a kick" sort of way. mission there was to What's he up to? she thought. Pablo doesn't usually come near unless help Pablo and his fellow mountain he's trying to get me to play. gorillas survive. She stopped scribbling notes and waited for Pablo to give her a clue. He inched closer. Then Pablo tucked his head under Amy's arm and snuggled close. ~An Unlikely Pair It was a move she had seen Pablo pull only on his mother. Amy's shelter must have looked meager compared with the mother gorilla's massive limb and its heavy covering of hair. But Pablo 1
didn't seem to mind. Glued to Amy's side, he looked grateful for AIN whatever warmth she could offer. Amy's heart swelled. She was thrilled by the idea of being accepted by a gorilla. Yet she knew there was no way she could fill in as Pablo's mother. MOUNT After all, she's a human and he's an ape. Amy knew she couldn't be there for Pablo day and night. Next she considered the impact on the gorillas' lives if she took Pablo under her wing--and the reason she was sitting in the middle of a Central African rain forest in the GORILLA first place. Amy was trying to crack a mystery: What would it take to keep these mountain gorillas alive? Crouched with Pablo in the pouring rain, the biologist in Amy reasoned that his mother surely knew what she was doing when she left her four-year-old son behind the She was thrilled by the idea of day before to join another gorilla group. being accepted by a gorilla. Pablo is old enough to fend for himself, Amy Yet she knew there was no way thought. If he gets into trouble, the other she could fill in as Pablo's mother. gorillas in his group will probably come to his rescue. No matter what happened, Amy decided, Pablo simply had to climb out from under her arm and get on with his life as a gorilla. With a brief farewell squeeze, Amy pushed Pablo away. ~Dad to the Rescue Over the next few days, Amy watched--and worried--as none of the older female gorillas offered Pablo any warmth. With his crossed eyes and crooked grin, the little gorilla approached Amy again and again, only to find her arms clamped uninvitingly at her sides. Then a surprise: When dark clouds descended and showered rain on the jungle, Amy saw Beethoven, the kinglike male silverback in the group, shelter Pablo beneath his hulking chest. Every night after that, when Beethoven had finished pulling up plant stems, vines, and leaves and shaping them into a warm, dish-shaped nest, he allowed Pablo to make a crude nest of his own nearby. Mature silverback males--named for the silvery hair that grows on their backsides as they age--reign supreme in a gorilla group. 2
Mountain gorillas like Beethoven have the perfect form--a sphere covered by shaggy hair-- for living in their cold, wet environment. With its arms crossed and its shoulders hunched, a mountain gorilla can wait out a storm for several hours. They father most of the offspring, but they generally leave child- rearing to the mothers. Pablo was Beethoven's exception. Amy took great pleasure in watching this bonding between sil- verback and son. Such a rare event was proof that she had made the right decision to send Pablo packing. Still, she couldn't help wondering what the future held for him. Amy couldn't imagine him as a mature adult, much less a powerful leader like Beethoven. All she could hope was that Pablo would survive. CLOSE ENCOUNTER 3