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World Photography Day: Photos help us learn more about gorillas

As the saying goes, a photo is worth a thousand words. In studying wildlife, such as the gorillas protected by the Fossey Fund every day, photography is worth even more than one might think, and is actually a crucial part of how we study and learn.

Photography and our gorilla research

Silverback gorilla Twibuke

For example, we take photos of the noses of every mountain gorilla we monitor in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. This is because each gorilla has a unique pattern of wrinkles on its nose, and we use this as a positive form of identification, like a human fingerprint.

We also use photographs, along with lasers, to take long-distance measurements of the gorillas. This technique is called photogrammetry and allows us to learn about their physical development without disturbing them.

In areas where gorillas are not habituated to the presence of human observers – like our work with Grauer’s gorillas in the

Democratic Republic of the Congo – we set up motion-sensing cameras in the trees, to capture photos of the gorillas and any other wildlife that might be in the area.

And we also take photos of all noteworthy events we witness in the forest, whether it’s a newborn gorilla, an interaction between gorilla groups, or just the gorillas doing something interesting.

This means that our research assistants, trackers and other staff are all potential photographers for us, even though they have many other duties to carry out while monitoring the gorillas or other animals and plants in the forest. 

Female gorilla Nsanganira and her infant
Female Gorilla Ishyaka
Silverback gorilla Agahebuzo

While all of our staff capture photos, on World Photography Day, we’d like to give a special shout out to our field communications assistant Cedric Ujeneza, who is our resident photographer in Rwanda – capturing both amazing images and videos (like the one below) of gorillas as well as from our work with local communities.

Capturing special moments

Wildlife photography is generally quite difficult, says Ujeneza. For the mountain gorillas, it involves strenuous hiking in remote areas and knowing how to behave around wild animals in order to stay safe. In addition, one has to be ready at all times and hope that the right moment lasts long enough to get a good shot.

Of course sometimes our staff catch special moments with their cameras that are simply just beautiful or fascinating to look at, providing all of us with a window into the lives of the gorillas and all the incredible wildlife that surrounds them in the forests.

Female Gorilla Izihirwa and her infant