In the Jungle With the Gorilla Whisperer

Even while enjoying a lazy lunch, Mubenge looked like King Kong.

"I worked with captive gorillas for a long time but I would never imagine that I'd be walking around and that we'd have successfully habituated a group of gorillas just to the point that they have no problem with us," said Todd. "I think it's hard for you to imagine how aggressive they can be. If that male wants to go for us now, he's got huge teeth and he's extremely strong and he could just kill you."

Todd knows that firsthand, as she has had to pay a price for her dedication to animals.

"I was attacked by a chimpanzee, eaten by a chimpanzee, 15 years ago in a zoo," she recalled. "There was a hole in the cage, the chimpanzee managed to ... grab my arm out and bring it into [the] cage and bit my thumb and finger off, nearly half of my arm. I'm actually really lucky I kept my arm. And the annoying thing was even though he ate my finger and my thumb he kind of spat them out. I brought them to the hospital and they couldn't put them back on."

Gorilla Population Threatened by Elephants, Man

Her personal life has also suffered from spending the better part of 10 years in the forest.

"You don't [have a personal life]," she said. "You make huge sacrifices in your life to be in the forest with the gorillas. Once you go down that direction it's tough to turn back and you just hope that someone will turn up. Who knows what will happen. Well, certainly while Mikumba's around, I'll still be here."

While Todd feels safe with the gorillas, she does always have to be on guard for elephants -- possibly the craftiest, most aggressive animal of the jungle. Adult elephants, ever protective of their babies, have attacked Todd and the gorillas before.

An even bigger danger to the gorillas, however, is man.

"If they get the chance, yes, they will eat the gorillas," Todd said of the locals. "And apparently, it's very tasty meat, but I couldn't possibly try it. For people's attitudes here, they're just animals. They don't see that they're sentient beings. They're just meat."

One of the benefits of habituating gorillas is that local people get to spend more time with them and see how near-human they are. Todd's program employs 60 people in the impoverished nation.

However, habituation is controversial because it can make gorillas too trusting and, therefore, more vulnerable to poachers. Bringing tourists in, as Todd sometimes does, can also expose the animals to human diseases.

"I think it's worth the risk," she said. "I really do."

Worth the risk because it gives researchers a chance to study a species that many fear will no longer be with us in 50 years, a species to which Angelique Todd has dedicated her life.

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