Africa’s rich and abundant wildlife has long fascinated the world. Gorillas are among the most recognized of the large charismatic mammals, a flagship species for the natural world, and wholly beguiling. They appeal to our better nature. A big hairy ape known for its gentleness and strong familial ties gives us hope. Great apes are a reflection of us in the natural world. Over the past 30 years, Greg Cummings has endeavoured to save as many of his hairy mountain cousins as he can, in Rwanda, Uganda, Congo, Gabon, and Cameroon. Raising awareness of their plight and millions of dollars for their protection, and building a community-based conservation program from scratch in war-torn Africa, while guiding captains of industry, Hollywood stars, polymaths, and journalists up steep volcanoes to meet these gentle giants, Greg sees himself as a double agent, serving both gorillas and humans — a gorilla man.
Climate change is forcing the issue of habitat and species loss on our planet. Multiple extreme actions are required over the next decade to stem the tide of environmental degradation. In the mid-1970s, mountain gorillas were on the brink of extinction. But a concerted and collaborative effort by dedicated conservationists turned their fortunes around. Greg was among them. On his watch, the mountain gorilla population grew by over 50 percent. Of particular value to those working on the front lines to mitigate the effects of global warming today, are Greg’s accounts of the triumphs and failures of that decades-long struggle. Ostensibly, he tells us how to save a large charismatic flagship species. Uniquely, he takes the point of view of a fundraiser, rather than a biologist, and shows the reader the mechanics of a cause as well as how to fund it.
‘Gorilla Tactics’ is a practical guide to achieving conservation success in the most difficult circumstances and against all odds, and, by way of grassroots action, helping poor people, too.
In his memoir, Greg describes in dramatic detail the moment in October 1992 when he first came face to face with wild gorillas in Rwanda, an encounter that launched his decades-long, gorilla-saving career. Herewith, a short excerpt from his, as yet, unpublished manuscript:
The wind blasts a hole through the mist and for a moment we can see Lake Kivu and the town of Gisenyi a few thousand metres below us. We then find Group 5’s night nests. A forward tracker assures us over walkie talkies that the gorillas are not far. We descend into a saddle and are surrounded by giant lobelia plants. There is an unusual odour in the air, like a workman’s armpit after a hard day’s toil. Bob tells me it is a fear odour that gorillas give off when they sense danger. I imagine they can smell us too. They probably know I drank a barrel of banana beer last night. A gorilla is sheltering from the rain beneath a hagania tree. But for a faint reflection in his dark eyes when he briefly glances at us, his form is barely discernible in the faint light. He sits perfectly still. He will not move until the rain stops, or I cross a line. Bob makes a well-rehearsed guttural sound with his throat, known as a belch-vocalization, which in gorilla language means, “Everything’s cool.” More gorillas appear. I am relieved that we have found them. Rainfall facilitates our entry into their world. Around us the foliage glistens. Despite the high average rainfall in their habitat, by all appearances gorillas do not much like the rain. They remain stock still, shabby black forms huddled together, hardly even looking up.
'GORILLA TACTICS: How to Save a Species' will be published by Chicago Review Press on World Gorilla Day 2023
“Welcome to our new client, Greg Cummings! We are excited to welcome him to Langtons International Agency. Greg submitted his proposal for his new book “Gorilla Tactics: How to Save a Species” which we took on immediately. This stunning biographical book explores the story of how Cummings and his wife Jillian have spent two decades ‘raising money from the rich and famous in Mayfair, Manhattan and Malibu and disbursing the funds to poor communities and to the upkeep of the gorilla habitats in Africa as seen by Dian Fossey.'” – Linda Langton, President, Langtons International Agency, New York City.
An award-winning conservationist, Greg Cummings achieved notable success protecting wild gorilla populations in Africa through community-based initiatives. During his 17-year tenure as director of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund UK, he raised millions of dollars from companies, foundations and individuals around the world. All that money was invested directly into communities adjacent to gorilla habitats, which helped ensure their survival.
As a veteran safari guide, Greg has taken movie producers, heads of industry, ambassadors, and celebrities to meet great apes in the wild. After trekking with him in the Congo jungle, Steve McQueen, who won an Oscar for Best Picture, said, “Basically he’s Dennis Hopper out of Apocalypse Now.”
Greg is a consummate storyteller, and has appeared with Tom Brokaw on the Today Show, participated in docs for the BBC, NPR, and CBC, and published articles in The Guardian, Sea Angler, and Ecologist.
Pirates (Cutting Edge Press, London 2014)
Gorillaland (Cutting Edge Press, London 2012)
‘Malindi, Kenya: Worth the Slog’ GO Nomad, Nov 2022
‘Billfish Fever in Malindi’ Sea Angler, Feb 2018
Greg, who first published in the Singapore Monitor in 1985, is an experienced jobbing writer who applies skill, acumen and his perspective as a Third Culture Kid to a broad range of topics. His interests are legion. Whether listening to World Music dance mixes or a pair of lions bringing down a buffalo at dawn, whether tasting Sicilian street food in Palermo, clams in Manhattan, or sushi in Los Cabos, whether tracking disturbing trends in geopolitics or mountain gorillas ranging through central Africa’s rainforests, Greg is tuned to a rare frequency. With his finger on the planet’s pulse, he has a global view. He writes well, too. Email him.
A Sample of Greg's photos
Gorilla Greg in the media
Listen (above) as Robyn Burns of CBC Victoria’s “All Points West” interviews Greg about his career as a conservationist and safari guide.
Apes in Danger, a three part BBC documentary that takes a definitive look at the global crises facing the world’s last great apes, aired in the UK in 2006. The series’ episode featuring Greg’s campaign to mitigate the threat that coltan mining posed on gorillas in the Congo drew its highest viewer ratings.
Shot on location in Maimi, Florida, ‘Looking for Johnny’ is a promotional video for Greg’s novel Pirates, featuring real-life cocaine smuggler Mickey Munday
In March 2006, to mark World Water Day, Greg took Daryl Hannah to meet gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and she later opened a new water cistern at a school. The trip was filmed for Richard Bangs Adventures.
In 2002, Greg launched a campaign to mitigate the impact that coltan mining was having on the Eastern lowland gorillas in the Congo. He subsequently recruited Leonardo DiCaprio to lead the campaign, and created the Durban Process, an inventive forum involving all sides of the conflict, to save gorillas.
Album cover designer, Storm Thorgerson made this film of Arthur C. Clarke’s goodwill message which was shown at the premiere of the movie CONGO at the Empire Leicester Square, London June 1995. Greg was proud to get a shout-out from such a far-seeing visionary. (“Miss you, Arthur.” -ed)