Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. This is “Handsome” as he was known to the guides and rangers; he was one of two adult male silverback mountain gorillas in the Nkuringo Group. A meeting with a 180-kilogram silverback gorilla is a life-changing moment filled with echoes from the past; a timely reminder of our own human frailty and place in nature. Clad in a thick coal-black coat with a broad saddle of silver-grey fur across his back, Handsome was instantly recognizable with eyes that appeared to see right through you making him a hypnotic mix of power and benevolence. Despite his immense strength he was gentle and tender with younger members of the group, ready to defend them against rivals from other families. Gazing deep into his hazelnut-brown eyes evoked a sense of recognition that was deeply moving and humbling. The impulse was to get down on your knees and repent for all the cruelty, injustice and suffering that we have inflicted on the Earth, to atone for the past. These are the same creatures that were slaughtered by hunters and explorers as recently as 1951 as we clung to the myth of the gorilla as a tyrannical monster-ape – the King Kong of cinema. Gorillas are still prized for their skulls and hands, their flesh consumed as exotic fare at dining tables in Nigeria, New York and London, despite new data confirming that humans and gorillas are about 98% identical on a genetic level.
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