I have been travelling quite a bit recently, and one of my stops was in the Swiss town of Basel near the French and German border. On my last day, I was suggested to visit its zoo. This was one of the highlights of my journeys.
I have done my fair share of zoos in the world, but this one has something I had not expected and which captivated me for several hours: A brand new Gorilla enclosure!
I must admit I had never seen Gorillas with my own eyes. As a member of the Edinburgh zoo, I am accustomed to the chimpanzees and other smaller primates, but a Gorilla is a whole different beast.
Armed with my Canon 5D III + 24-105mm L lens and my Canon 60D + 70-200mm L lens, I went to seat/lean down against the rather clean and thin window which separated this silverback and me. At first, it was a matter of studying his behaviour; he was enjoying some chewing about 3-4 meters from me.
After a while, he got very intrigued by my camera and my starring, so he walked towards me, sat down facing away. But he kept on turning his head my way and almost like a shy child he was playing peek-a-boo with me which astonished me and the other visitors.
It came to a point where he was even laying on his side, still facing away and hiding his head in his arms, making a little opening just to see if I was still there. It was simply mesmerising.
I have never felt this with other primates, and while we are supposed to be closer with Chimps, I found much more visual and behaviour similarities with this gorilla.
You may think I am being funny, but I have met many people in my life whose face quite resembled his. His eyes and facial expression, in general, are so meaningful.
I will not pretend to know what he was thinking but it is my humble and naive opinion to believe he was indeed thinking and not living a life driven purely by animal instincts.
After 1,5hr spend in his company, I left him to visit the rest of the zoo. On my way back I had to stop by his enclose to say a final goodbye and thank him for giving me this amazing experience. He was obviously still there; he had moved away from the window, and I did get our eyes to meet on more time which convinced me he was fully aware and had recognised me.
I left the zoo with a smile of having lived something extraordinary, and suddenly remembered the fabulous biopic staring Sigourney Weaver, Gorilla in the Mist, which portrays the life and dedication of Dian Fossey, a scientist who came to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas, and later fought to protect them. I can fully understand how one can dedicate his/her life to save such a beautiful species against the stupidity and greed of mankind.
For those who wonder what settings I used for making those photographs, I used only my Canon 5D III + 24-105 lens. I was too close to use a longer focal length than 105mm. The ISO was most of the time set on 1600, and as usual, I was shooting in Aperture priority mode with f7 et f4 for the hands shot.