What Do Gorillas Think of Face Masks?

Hello, my dears? Are you still there?

For me, I am still with you, trust me!

The reason why you haven’t heard from me for a while is that I was busy busy busy working with two different TV crews. They wanted to capture the best of Volcanoes National Park — and when you work with camera people time flows differently. I previously told you that I was doing two-week shifts. Well, with these media professionals, the two weeks became many more; it was one long, uninterrupted job.

But I didn’t mind. It is critical that we show the world gorillas and all of the other attractions we have on our volcanoes!

I tell you, those guys know exactly what they want! To meet their targets I would get up before the sunrise, or stay in the bush for extremely long sessions. One day, they would want a silverback climbing a tree! Then the next day they would want gorillas having sex! And all those behaviours needed to happen within the one and only gorilla group we were following. It was a real challenge, but very rewarding when all went well.

In this episode, I want to tell you about the face masks we now wear daily.

As the entire world struggles with the pandemic of Covid-19, rangers and gorillas are no exception. We are best friends with them, we are family, and I am sure that the way rangers know gorillas’ personalities, gorillas also know rangers’ characters. Who knows, maybe they even give us names the way we name them?!

We recognise individuals based on their unique nose shapes, and I have no idea what they use to recognise us. But covering most of our faces with masks definitely doesn’t help!

Gorillas associate masks with gorilla doctors … and they don’t like them! Unaware of the essential role they play, these wild primates see medical personnel as very disruptive, even threatening. You can imagine: somebody you don’t know, with a covered face, starts messing around with your family, even putting some of your members to sleep at times! These are the mask-wearers they have previously known.

So, it took our hairy friends a while before they got comfortable with us wearing masks. Actually, because they did not initially recognise us, some silverbacks and blackbacks wanted to attack us! But humans and gorillas are alike in many ways, one of them being that we are capable of adapting to new situations. So eventually they figured us out, and we were again friends, even without access to full views of our faces.

Conservation professionals had long pressured us to wear masks for the gorillas’ protection — many years before the pandemic reached Rwanda on 15 March 2020 — and now that we are used to them there is probably no way back. It isn’t easy, as most of you have found out yourselves. But we, the rangers, will also adjust to masks, as have our powerful forest friends!

featured photo by Marcus Westberg

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  1. This is change because even human being can be scared if they see unusual face, thank you for good work done of getting used to them, I think it was not easy

    1. Ha ha, our Julius, I kinda understand the sentiment BUT: these masks are there solely to protect the gorillas themselves from this unfortunate human virus…