‘Gorilla foods”, Amy answered.”Dried gorilla foods I study what gorillas eat”. We hastily bid farewell grabbed our bags including two large trunks full of research data and plant specimens and made a mad dash at the height of the hectic evening rush hour through the underground. Arriving at Victoria station, we found ourselves in a rapidly swelling crowd in front of the British Airways office where officials announced they would not sell any tickets until the next morning. So we claimed our place in line and took turns sleeping on the side walk next to our belongings. One day earlier the times of London had solicited our views and opinions on the fate of the mountain gorilla. We were wined and dined by our distinguished hosts. But as midnight struck our ballroom gowns turned into rags on the cold pavement of Victoria station. There all that mattered was our proximity to the front of the queue. The next morning the cut off for half fare tickets fell seven places behind us and we smiled as we boarded our flight home.
TWO LARGE TRUNKS distinguished us from other travelers in the US customs line at JFK. The customs agent looked over the battered trunks while also studying our appearance young longish hair beard, jeans well worn field boots. He asked to open the first trunk, and then stood in administration at the revealed stash hundreds of small plastic bags filled with dried plant matter, mostly leaves and stems. And what have we here? Another agent who had joined us chimed in. We have gorillas at the Bronx Zoo. You could study what they eat there and save the trip to Africa. “Actually, the Bronx Zoo is part of the group that paid for my research”
Amy produced Rwandan export permits stating that none of her more than one hundred plant species as endangered. This would have been impossible for anyone to confirm, given their dried, crumbled state and many of the plants did share a marked resemblance to marijuana. But after a few good laughs over the bags of dried dung that accompanied the plant samples the agent decided that we were unlikely drug runners and allowed us to leave.
A LETTER FROM THE Wildlife Conservation Society awaited us on our return to Madison, Wisconsin. We had informed WCS of our intention to return to RWANDA and submitted a very modest request for renewed support. Their response was a shocker. We were congratulated on our successes, thanked for our efforts and told that WCS would not fund our proposed work with the MGP.A phone call to New York changed nothing though an official did explain that the society saw its role as supporting research, not applied management. We had hoped to convince WCS to take its rightful place in the in the mountain gorilla project consortium now they wouldn’t even fund our own work. Our families were frankly relieved at this news. Three and half years in Africa were enough. They hoped that we would finish our degrees and get “real” jobs, preferably in the US. We were crushed; we called Sandy Harcourt immediately and explained our predicament. He was very concerned that we would not be able to return to Rwanda, or at least not in a timely manner. After forty eight nervous hours, Sandy called back with confirmation that the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society would fund our activities. They would even pay us the princely stipend of $500 each per month, up from $300 during the proceeding eighteen months. We were relieved and elated.
Actually, Bill had more reasons to be excited. Amy was unable to do any of her analyses under field conditions in Rwanda and we still need her final results for management purposes and to meet our obligations to ORTPN. We agreed that she would register for the fall semester and finish her work in Madison, while Bill returned to Rwanda. We were twenty eight years old and had been together for nine years, our entire adult lives. Our earlier work in Rwanda had required many separations of a week or two. Now we were looking at four months. After one last emotional night, we set a date for Christmas and headed our separate ways.