In August 2012 Pollyanna and her daughter and business partner Anna-Louise found themselves sitting in deep undergrowth just a few feet away from this young mountain gorilla in the Virunga mountains in Rwanda.
The gorilla regarded them with mild interest – but the visitors weren’t distracting enough to stop him chewing on his snack of green shoots! Despite having been fortunate enough to travel across five continents and to observe many endangered species in their natural habitats, Anna-Louise described her experiences of sitting quietly in the midst of a group of gorillas as ‘one of the most magical days of my life’.
She was able to take intimate portraits like the one above – while Pollyanna of course made the most of the chance to record her impression in her sketch folder. The first paintings inspired by the expedition into Rwanda will be displayed at Pollyanna’s forthcoming exhibition Last Chance to Paint –you can see a sneak preview below!
There are no Mountain Gorillas in captivity anywhere n the world - all gorillas in zoos are lowland gorillas, which are somewhat smaller and have very different facial features – so the only way for any artist to sketch and paint them with absolute accuracy is to make the arduous trek up into the mountain range which is their home. The volcanic slopes of Virunga mountains straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo - areas which have seen much human violence, from which the gorillas have not escaped unscathed. Pollyanna and Anna-Louise trekked into the heart of the gorilla’s habitat - and were also rewarded with sightings of endemic Golden monkeys.
The journey was not without its share of heart stopping moments – the duo were charged by the largest silverback gorilla on earth! “Although the gorillas are very gentle and mostly placid, this huge male decided he would like to assert his dominance over his territory and suddenly charged directly between us on the small track we were standing on. He then calmly settled down with a couple of the females in his group to eat some leaves – while we were left with our hearts pounding and legs shaking! Although it was more a display of strength than a genuine threat, some primal part of your brain can’t help feeling terror at the sight of nearly 500lbs of powerful muscle bearing down on you!” Anna-Louise was also left with bruised and cut shins when a second large male decided to run down a mountain slope without releasing the trunk of a sapling which he had been holding – the sapling eventually snapped under the strain, whipping around and slashing into her legs. Fortunately her injuries weren’t too serious and she was able to trek back down!
Did You Know...
There are roughly 700 mountain gorillas remaining on Earth, and nearly half live in the Virunga mountains in central Africa.
Gorillas can climb trees, but are usually found on the ground in communities of up to 30 individuals.
Female gorillas give birth to one infant after a pregnancy of nearly nine months. Unlike their powerful parents, newborns are tiny—weighing four lbs.
In captivity, lowland gorillas have displayed significant intelligence and have even learned simple human sign language.
Painting of a young Gorilla
Pollyanna treks into the mountains with the RDC rangers
Anna-Louise arrives in Rwanda