When I was first told about the plans for a gorilla sanctuary in the Southwestern Blue Ridge Mountains, my eye lids widened, eyes bugged out, jaw slacked and I didn't know what to say next. After pondering for a few moments, it became obvious what I would do next, I'd write a story. Mrs. Highlander and I arranged to meet with Steuart and Jane Dewar, to see if this gorilla commune plan was real, or if the Dewar's heads were filled with helium. What we found, was that it was not only real, it was quite professionally and intricately planned, right down to the smallest detail, experts involved in every aspect.
We gathered as much information as we could lay our hands on, and went about our business, contemplating an angle for the story. We passed on the idea of gorillas as new neighbors...each time we mentioned Gorilla Haven to others, we got the same first reaction, eyes bugged, jaws slacked. The majority of the folks replied, "great, sounds exciting." Others stared on with expressionless dignity, walking away in a hypnotic trance. We heard second hand, that there were some that opposed the idea, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's been my experience that nothing good ever comes into being without a little friction.
Most of us have an agenda of our own, that prioritizes the direction of both our time and the pattern of life. The general public usually will focus on family first. This is the more traditional approach to life, operating at a level that best serves their family unit. Others may choose their career first, believing their success brings immediate rewards, which in turn benefit the needs of their family. Then there are the leaders of industry, who, whether it's their primary interest or not, are fulfilling their goal, while providing jobs to countless number of people, who in turn are providing for their family's needs. This all trickles down to the one emotional element that everyone thrives on, it's a special fulfillment called, "the love of purpose."
It's the love of purpose that motivates the Dewars towards their goal to create Gorilla Haven, who's life mission is..."to help make every captive gorilla's life as enriched and natural as possible; and to promote education about gorilla conservation in zoos and the wild."
C.E. Steuart Dewar studied ethology, biochemistry and music at the University of Chicago. During a twenty year period, he became a leader within the computer world by founding the Dewar Information Systems Corporation, taking the company's success to the ranks of an INC 500 company. This is no easy task. He is considered a top computer expert and one of the four founding fathers of the electronic publishing industry. Steuart is an individual who is dedicated to his goals and excels when achieving those goals. Steuart is not only a business man he is also a man of compassion and that is why he decided to devote his time and money to Gorilla Haven.
Jane T. R. Dewar has a degree in linguistics from Lawrence University and has been studying gorillas intently, since the 1980's. She has met nearly 400 individual zoo gorillas throughout Europe and North America, not to mention both her and Steuart's encounters with gorillas in the wilds of Africa.
Jane's inclination in respect to the art of communication, led her indirectly to an interest in the gorilla Koko. Koko is a female gorilla who has been taught the use of sign language and has a strong affection for kittens. It happened in 1989, although Jane will tell you as though it were yesterday. Her crowning moment in life came when she was given the opportunity to meet Koko. During their visit, Jane signed to Koko, "I love gorillas," and Koko signed back, "Love gorillas You."
Jane left that visit on cloud nine, knowing her purpose in life was now set in stone...the study and preservation of gorillas. Koko on the other hand, returned to her own life's calling, the study of little fluffy kitties.
After Steuart and Jane Dewar's last trip to Africa in 1995, they were so inspired, that the C.E.O. of Dewar Information Systems Corporation decided to sell his business, take the funds and move towards fulfilling a greater desire, building Gorilla Haven.
When you meet Steuart and Jane Dewar, leave all the pomp and circumstance at the door, these are just regular folks, for the most part. Once you enter their 100 year old cabin on the 275 acres located in Fannin County, North Georgia, their purpose and mind-set is in plain sight.
Their home is a receptacle in which every available inch reflects a motif of a special gorilla heaven...paintings, photos, gidgets, gadgets and numerous stuffed gorillas [the kind for the little girl in Jane, not the taxidermy kind.] If this isn't love, it's obsession...but a good obsession. Jane did make a point of letting us know that she has NO King Kong related collectables, and is making it her life goal to destroy the King Kong myth.
Mrs. Highlander and I spoke to the Dewars for hours, feeling their passion for the project and discovering the details necessary in creating Gorilla Haven, details, they would gladly share with anyone who is interested. They love to talk about big hairy primates and their adventures with them. If you've been wondering about how they are going to integrate gorillas into the Blue Ridge Mountains...don't, the gorillas prefer to live amongst themselves.
Gorilla Haven is being designed to support an individual or a group of gorillas within a highly secured living area on several acres, centrally located within their 275 acre valley, rimmed with ridges and a mountain. The Dewar's main goal is to give sanctuary to gorillas that don't fit into the zoo groups for various reasons. These gorillas need a place to live and the Dewars want to give them a home.
For my sake alone, I did check around the house, and I am certain that the Dewars won't be putting up a couple of gorillas in their spare guest room, while Jane does the cooking and Steuart does the cleaning. The double bed in the guest room isn't big enough to hold even one gorilla. Nor are they planning on chaining a Silverback to a dog chain and attach it to a tree in the front yard, to fend off intruders. The gorillas will not be running loose, stealing pies off window sills, hiding in trees, keeping dogs up all night barking at the woods. They are also not planning on having a gorilla ride in the back of a pickup truck, moving from side to side, sticking its head in the wind. That form of entertainment is reserved for dogs, children and me.
These gorillas will have a village of their own, with acreage, housing, security, medical care, education, healthy meals and recreation. We are not sure about the big screen, satellite television and jacuzzi, but so far, it sounds so good that we are thinking about buying gorilla suits and seeing if we can qualify as the first residents.
The Dewars have opened their home, their wallets and their hearts to the plight of the gorillas who are growing more extinct in their natural environment with the passing of each and everyday. Poachers slaughter whole gorilla families just to steal one or two of their young. They sell them on the black market along with trophy heads, hands and feet. There is also a HUGE problem with the bushmeat trade, where gorillas, chimps, monkeys, duikers, etc are hunted for their meat alone, this brings in megabucks. In some African cities bushmeat is considered a delicacy although other Africans consider eating the bushmeat cannibalism and are adamantly against it. An education campaign is underway to eliminate the bushmeat trade and the Dewars are helping here too - as part of their education commitment in their mission statement.
The mountain gorillas of Africa aren't expected to survive into the next century. Try as they may, the protectors of these noble beast cannot stop the genocide or the masses of humanity invading their forest/mountain homes bringing human disease into their world. In order to study gorillas in the wild, they must be left to the laws of nature, to fend for themselves. This freedom allows the intrusion of poachers, who will stop at nothing, even risking their own lives just to get a chance at the illegal profits the gorillas can bring.
Gorillas are gentle creatures who only show aggression when they are provoked, who wouldn't? Silverbacks are the leader of their clan. They live much like tribal people, nomadic in nature. They are vegetarians, with a higher form of communication than herding or animal packs.
Their sensitivity and level of understanding has been demonstrated in so many fashions. Such as Binti Jua, she became famous just last year. It seems a little boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. Binti Jua, a female gorilla rescued the child and carried him gently to her keepers.
In the late 1980's, Jambo saw a little boy fall into the enclosure at Jersey Zoo in Great Britain. Jambo a 400 lb. Silverback, gently stroked the back of the injured boy, keeping the other curious gorillas at bay, until rescuers could get to the boy.
Almost everyone has seen a picture of Koko, the adopter of kittens, and an expert in gorilla sign language. She is the gorilla that inspired the character of Amy the ASL sign language gorilla in the movie, Congo.
Most of our early experience in seeing gorillas, came via late night television. Grown men in gorilla costumes ran around terrorizing the communities, carrying off women, scaring young viewers, and shedding hair all over the place. Then there were the big screen, giant gorillas invented by the masters of Hollywood horror, bigger budgets, bigger scares. All we know is what we are taught, and unfortunately we were taught to see gorillas in a negative light. Nothing could be further from the truth, gorillas are actually very gentle, peaceful animals, and very family orientated.
Dian Fossey put her life at risk, defying the myth that gorillas were natural born killers. She became more comfortable in the presence of these great primates in the wild, than she did with most people. Dian understood the true nature of gorillas. These magnificent creatures need our understanding, not our apprehension and fear. Unfortunately, She was killed in 1985. It is believed that Dian was killed by poachers, although no one was caught.
Steuart and Jane are proposing a gorilla sanctuary on their property by the year 2000. Closed to the general public, Gorilla Haven will be opened for legitimate study and research. There will be keepers, a veterinarian and security persons on the grounds 24 hours a day. These gorillas will live as much of a sheltered/secluded life, as can be provided, for the sake of the gorillas themselves. Gorilla Haven will provide a setting as close to their natural environment as possible, only these gorillas will be located in the temperate climate of the mountain highlands of North Georgia.
The Dewars are a special breed of people who deserve a vote of confidence in their endeavor to preserve one of the many species that are disappearing from our earth at an alarming rate.
To know more about Gorilla Haven, you can find them on the internet at www.gorilla-haven.org. You can email them at: email@example.com, or fax them at: 706-374-4491. They'll be glad to hear from you and answer any questions you may have.
This is Snowflake and his mate. They have several offsprings, all of which are black in color. Snowflake is not an albino. He is a rare, natural white gorilla with blue eyes and tan skin. So rare are the white gorilla, that in history there has only been two recorded.
The Native American tribe of the Dakota Sioux believed that the rare appearance of the sacred white buffalo was a sign sent by the Great Spirit.
Is nature trying to tell us something about the plight of the gorillas through the appearance of this white gorilla?
From this writer's point of view, the world is a better place when individuals reach out to help carry the brunt of a burden, very few of us can handle. This is our world, every inch of it, and it's the only one we have. There are not enough of us that take responsibility for the problems that the human race has created over the years. The duty of preservation does fall on all our shoulders, every big and small effort counts, we can help make a difference, if we wanted to.
Longer than time can remember, humanity was been given a responsibility. A responsibility to uphold a moral obligation that was thrust upon us by a higher hand.
And God said, let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing the moveth upon the earth.
If we lose all our subjects, we won't have anything to have DOMINION over.
Photos are the courtesy of and copyright of Gorilla Haven© all rights reserved.
If you haven't read "Above