A three part series following the daily trials, tribulations, life and death struggles of a few of the remaining 700 or so mountain gorillas that survive within the forests and volcanic mountains that straddle the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
As well as following the current dynamic and charasmatic individuals and groups the programmes also offer contextual and relevant historical background, often with archive footage, of some of the elder surviving members and Diane Fossey who laid the foundations for the ongoing work which shows the life cycle of gorillas and external pressures which exist and impact upon their continuing existence.
The environments are stunning and quite diverse from the forests at the bottom of the mountains to the cooler wetter lush summit and associated temperature extremes. The fact that there are any gorillas left at all living in small pockets of the three aforementioned countries whose human populations have had to experience atrocity after atrocity resulting from political instability, genocide, long and enduring civil wars (at the height of Congo's war there were up to 25 different armed factions fighting) is testament to the resoursefulness and endurability of these apes, the incredible work a small number of individuals have been involved in for 40 years and probably geographical good fortune as far as the mountain range which limits human encrouchment and allows relatively easy transference across three borders. It was interesting seeing some of the gorillas that had crossed over from the Congo many with damaged or missing limbs and digits as a result of the use of snares although illegal snare use is an ongoing problem within all areas gorillas forage.
These programmes are beautifully filmed. They are really interesting but quite tense in parts as it is all too easy to find oneself emotional investing in the individuals/groups as you follow them during the course of the programme. The behaviour and environment are so dynamic and often life alteringly dangerous that it has you gripped, often fearful as to the survival chances of a particular ape or family group. Whilst not exactly nature red in tooth and claw as gorillas are not naturally aggressive per se outside of the natural behaviours of defending their group, power struggles etc, there are plenty of 'rumbles in the jungles' more often then not just evidenced the next morning by the cuts and lacerations on a particular young silverback who has fancied his chances. It does make it clear also that infanticide does occur in gorilla societies if an existing top silverback is deposed but really the perils that surround them are enough to contend with so whilst this programme doesn't feature this it does not shy away from the difficulties of their existence and shows stock footage of gorillas bodies having been killed by poachers (most recently from 1997 when 6 gorillas were killed in Congo suspected to be by charcoal harvesters)
The three programmes are as follows:
Kingdom in the Clouds - Focusing mainly upon small groups of gorillas that live on the slopes of the Virunga mountains; shows the risks that exist for gorillas here with illegal snaring amongst the bamboo plants (aimed at catching antelope etc but can and do trap gorillas) Follows a large troop of 46 gorillas including one 3 year old female gorilla abandoned by her mother who left the silverback for a rival and has to rely solely on her father for survival.
Last Stand of the Silverback King - Focuses upon Titus probably the most successful silverback known. Titus was orphaned when a baby after his father, the top silverback, was killed protecting him from poachers. In the power vacumn that followed amongst the gorillas his mother left the group leaving him behind; Titus was not expected to survive but was adopted by an unrelated silverback. Titus grew to be king and himself adopted an orphaned unrelated baby; now Titus is under threat and the survival of both him and his orphan are at stake. Incredible episode.
Safe in Our Hands - Shows ongoing inititives aimed at preserving gorillas via supporting local populations such as alternatives to charcoal (a really successful initiative) promoting tourism (also covered in an earlier episode) as well as continuing the stories of some of the individuals being followed.
It looks more hopeful then it did back in the 80's that's for sure. For the last 20 years as the programme relays gorilla populations here have been rising. There's far too much that this programme covers about gorilla behaviour, etc to even touch on here; its narrated nicely by Patrick Stewart who gives a measured voiceover so allowing the viewer to not be distracted from the visual imagery. Absolute quality programme making.