By Mike Jones
A troop of gorillas decimated in a massacre have revealed they are thriving once more – by showing off their adorably hairy new arrival in a heart-warming family portrait.
Bobby-Jo Vial was thrilled to snap the Rugendo family of critically-endangered mountain gorillas, who live in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), last month.
Her stunning photos were made all the more poignant because of the band’s tragic past after famous silverback Senkwekwe and five relatives were murdered by charcoal poachers in 2007.
But photographer Bobby-Jo, 35, from Dubbo, Australia, was delighted to see how the family had recovered and were still trusting of humans – so much show that they couldn’t wait to show off their new arrival’s amazingly bouffant hairdo.
Bobby-Jo, director of Duma Safaris, said: “This was my sixth time tracking mountain gorillas, and my best experience yet.
“This mountain gorilla family have a very sad and tragic past – they made international headlines in 2007 when Senkwekwe and five of his family, including a pregnant female, were murdered.
“I remember seeing the famous photo of Senkwekwe being carried out of the forest, and it broke my heart. I recently visited the graves and paid my respects.
“With these photos, the highlight happened at the end of the hour when the family all sat together within a metre from me.
“It felt like I was there to capture an intimate family portraiture. It was a magical experience that I will never forget.
“It is amazing to see that the Rugendo family has recovered and have many young at present. They are still so trusting of humans even after what they have been through.
“At one point, I sat right next to adult female Janza and her tiny infant, who is yet to be named.
“She was very protective of him but would allow me to have a look with my camera every few minutes.
“He was very cute, and had the most ridiculous little hairdo.”
Just a week before Bobby-Jo took these photos, seven Virunga National Park rangers were killed by poachers linked to the illegal charcoal trade on April 9.
Black market charcoal is the main reason poaching currently happens in Virunga, as the valuable hardwood trees are found in the national park.
Bobby-Jo’s family portrait features silverback Bukima, 26, adult female Bagambe, 10 and young males Bwambale, two, and four-year-old Mayani.
She also spent time with Janza, 28, and her one-month-old youngster, who is yet to be named.
The 35-year-old added: “I was very overwhelmed to photograph so many different behavioural moments throughout my hour with the Rugendo family.
“The highlight was spending the last 20 minutes with dominant silverback Bukima.
“He was sitting on a raised nest of vegetation and I knelt before him like he was a king. The rangers were laughing at how excited I was. It was nice to see them smiling.
“As I sat at Bukima’s feet, the rest of his family came to join him.
“They all sat in the most perfect position like they wanted a family portrait taken but It was like one of those typical awkward family portraits.
“Mum, dad and the two kids – one is shy and doesn’t want their photo taken and the other child won’t sit still long enough!
“Family and friends have loved the photos – especially the tiny infant with the hairdo.
“My goal as a photographer is to evoke emotion with my images and inspire people to care about our natural world so to get such a positive and beautiful response was pure joy for me.
“Virunga has a very special place in my heart and I found myself quite overwhelmed at times.”