I read a very interesting article in the UK Telegraph about Angelique Todd and thought it would be worth sharing.
Angelique Todd, mother of 1, has devoted her adult life to habituating rare silverback gorillas in central Africa.
She left Tunbridge Wells in the UK for the central African rainforest to study western lowland gorillas, and has been called the ‘gorilla whisperer’ for the effect she has on Makumba, a 400 lb Silverback. She doesn’t actually whisper but makes a soothing sighing noise, accompanied by clucking. It’s like an invisible barrier between her and the gorilla. However close Makumba gets, Todd stays calm, no matter what.
Todd has achieved something remarkable. As the head of the Primate Habituation Programme (PHP) in the Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve in the CAR, she has accomplished what had eluded scientists for decades – habituated western lowland gorillas for both tourism and research. Habituation means gaining the trust of wild gorillas so they don’t run away. And this is significant because although western lowland gorillas are the sort most commonly found in zoos, little is known about them in the wild.
Todd is not the first to win the trust of this subspecies, but few have matched her success. Her achievement derives partly from persistence.
She joined the World Wildlife Fund’s gorilla habituation programme in the CAR as a young research assistant in 2000 and first spotted Makumba and his family later that year – he has three ‘wives’ and 10 children. His initial response was to disappear; for two years she hardly saw him at all. Every day she trekked for hours into the forest and only saw ‘fleeing backsides’. By the time the job was finally done in 2007, Todd was 38, had been promoted to head of the programme – and Makumba had become her life.
Working for WWF, Todd’s aim is to locate main groups, learn about their habits and biology, and get them used to humans so she (and her guides) can introduce the gorillas to other visitors – tourists, wildlife photographers, researchers.
To this end she has spent the past 10 years living in the Central African Republic, doing a job many thought too difficult.’No one wanted to work in the conditions of the lowlands,’ says Dr Richard Carroll, a vice-president of WWF. ‘It’s tough out there.’ Now Todd has been named a WWF ‘true conservation hero’.