THE TRIAL FROM NGEZI wound uncertainly as it sought the path of least resistance down the crater’s rugged Eastern flank. Dense stands of veronica and bamboo provided a low ceiling of almost constant cover, while a gauntlet of rocks and exposed roots demanded attention to the trail below;
Along the way, rocky out cropping afforded release from the cover and the opportunity for bill to look up and out at the world beyond his tired feet. To the Northeast, dozens of low-lying craters gave way to the jagged peaks of Sabyinyo, the notched flat top of Gahinga and Muhavura’s classic cone. To the East and South lay the rich farmlands that covered the Virunga piedmont like a patch work quilt. Looking at their neat rows of crops, stone boundary walls, and permanent households, bill could not imagine that these settlements had been carved from the park’s lower reaches less than years earlier.
Adding to the air of normalcy were the sounds of another African day coming to an end, greetings called out as people returned from fields and markets shouted invitations for men to gather for drink and talk, calls from women to collect their children to help prepare for supper- all punctuated by the bleated resistance of goats being led to evening lock up on the tethers of little boys. It was hard to believe that anyone from this bucolic setting could be as associated with the cold-blooded killings that had caused Bills forced march back to Karisoke. The fatigue of the full census day and the shock of the edge of the park top join camp trail at its base. A final shot of adrenaline shortened the climb up to camp.
ARMYS NOTE ON THE DOOR of our darkened cabin said simply at the door of Dian’s cabin inside, Bill was surprised to see Betty Cringle there. The U.S ambassador’s wife was a close friend of Dian’s and a frequent visitor. Ian emerged from another room looking even more stooped and haggard than usual. She briefed bill on the situation as a gallery of gorilla photos gazed down from the wall behind her. Among the faces half illuminated by the gas lanterns was that of Uncle Bert. Dian confirmed that Uncle Bert was found dead and decapitated that morning, and stated her conviction that others were dead or captured, too. David Watts had actually followed group 4s trail up onto Visokes slopes after the killings and was amazed at their relative calm. But he could not confirm the presence of all the other gorillas before darkness settled in. With that report, Dian retreated to her room.
Betty Crigler expressed concern about Dian’s state of mind: she is dealt with poachers. Given that suspected poachers had been subjected to a variety of tortures and other abuses carried out under Dian’s direction, the prospect of retaliation was not unthinkable. But there was nothing to support this view either. Our ability to think clearly about anything at that point was seriously limited, in any event and we left without a response to her concerns.
Dian reemerged to join us at the dinner table, where she barely touched her food and avoided all eye contact. Her tortured face spoke volumes about the depth of the hurt inside .David, too, showed the extreme pain of the day’s events. He had discovered Uncle Bert’s still warm but headless body just before eight o’clock that morning. It would have been a rural experience for any one, still more so for someone as gentle and sensitive as Davis: a very quiet and serious researcher whose main emotional outlet was playing the violin. He would show a much tougher side in dealing with the latest tragedy to befall group 4.
We returned silently to our cabin some time before midnight. Physically and emotionally drained by the day’s events and exertions we collapsed into an all-too-brief sleep.
AT DAWN ON THE MORNING of July 25, we set off in a large group for the site where Uncle Bert was killed. Amy and David followed group 4’s trail with little Nemeye and Basira, while vatiri and kana –an occasional Karisoke worker –set off on the day-old trail of the poachers, Bill stayed behind with Rwelekana and Rukera to reconstruct the attack and to search the site for more bodies. Our starting point was the large spot where Uncle Bert’s blood had poured out and dried to form an incongruous dark red mat on the crushed celery and other greenery below. The vegetation was flattened in all directions, reflecting the chaos of the attack. It was difficult to separate gorilla flights trails from those of the poachers and of the Karisoke staff who had briefly searched the area the day before.
After twenty minutes of searching, bill followed what looked like the trail of a solitary individual. There he discovered a large black form, faced down in an area of thick sedge like plants. He called to Rukera, who helped turn the body over to reveal the gruesome death mask of macho. Her face was locked in a contorted grimace as she fell from a single rifle shot in the back. With macho beyond help our concerns turned to Kweli. There was no sign of macho’s two-year-old son anywhere near her, though what could have been an infant’s narrow path did split off from her trail to join the general maze beyond.