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Eyes Of Virunga
9 x 14

​High in the cloud forests of the Virunga mountain chain in Central Africa, live the descendents of the mountain gorilla group studied by Dian Fossey as featured in the movie "Gorillas In The Mist". Known as the Susa group, they are visited on occasion by tourists who are privileged enough to make the journey and be led to the group via guides. The juvenile female in this artwork is a member of this group. My friend Ryan Bolton was lucky enough to visit Rwanda and photograph these amazing animals and generously allowed me to use his photos as reference for this piece.

Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, exist in two populations. One in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the other in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is estimated that there are fewer than 1000 individuals left. Threats to their survival are numerous. Poaching, habitat loss, disease, and the impacts of war are the primary ones. Habitat loss continues to be the most serious threat. Slash and burn agriculture is a common practice whether by displaced refugees or increasing human populations. Fragmentation of habitat is preventing groups from reaching each other to allow for genetic diversity. 

In addition, workers from logging and mining camps often set traps for wild game, and gorillas often fall victim. Known as "bushmeat", the meat is either consumed on site, or sold to foreign countries where it is considered a delicacy. Mining is another significant threat to gorilla populations. Coltan is a metallic ore that is mined for cell phones and electronic devices. The majority of the world's supply is found in Africa. Habitat loss due to illegal mining of Coltan is having a significant effect on the conservation of gorillas. Recycling programs for used cell phones can now be found in several countries to help counteract this effect.

Living at an altitude of 7,200 - 14,000 feet requires a thick coat of fur as the cloud forests are constantly misty, rainy and cold. This is one of the most unique traits of the mountain gorilla compared to its lowland cousins. I chose to highlight not only the beautiful eyes and expression of this young female captured by Mr. Bolton in his photographs, but also took the liberty of showing the fur in a wet state, as it would look after rain or mist rolled in, instead of relatively dry, as was the case in the photos.

To learn more about Ryan Bolton's work as a photographer and conservationist please visit http://www.artofconservation.ca/RMBolton/