Gorilla tracking

Mountain gorilla

One activity that is unique to this part of the world is the chance to spend time with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.  This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and something that I simply could not miss out on.

These amazing primates are one of the most endangered species on the planet, and it’s believed that there are fewer than 800 in the world, in a small area straddling Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).  Approximately half live in the imaginatively named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of Uganda.  Permits to track the gorillas are expensive, there’s no denying that, but apparently a portion of the money goes back into the conservation of the forest and its inhabitants, which has led to an increase in gorilla numbers over the last decade.

The day started with a panic.  We got up at half past four in the morning to travel to Bwindi, and our permits had been left out for us to collect.  Dennis was also up, making packed lunches for everyone, but when he saw the permits for Jesper, Rob and I, he looked at us with horror, saying our entrance gate was different to the rest of the group and it was on the far side of the national park, right near the border with DRC.  He told us we should have stayed there overnight.  He then started to find this hilarious, as he did with everything.  Normally his smile was infectious, but not at this time of the morning with the very real possibility that we had wasted a large amount of money!

He was right…it was a longer drive than it should have been, and then there was a long, nerve-racking wait at the park entrance as our driver Nicholas sweet-talked the security guards.  Were we too late?  I have no idea what he said, but we were let in and then had to get to the relevant gate.  We never reached it, because on the way, we met a group of trackers who told us we could wait with them for the rest of the group who were coming from the gate we were supposed to have been at.

Only groups of about 8 people can visit the gorillas and there is no guarantee you will see them.  The trek can take hours, up and down steep slopes and through extremely dense vegetation.

As we were hiking, it became very clear how the Impenetrable Forest got its name!  The trackers cleared a way through the thick undergrowth with their machetes, heading towards where the gorillas had most recently been seen.Gorilla poo  Other trackers further ahead followed the trail of signs such as fresh faeces and radioed back to their colleagues who were with us.

After only a short time, perhaps 45 mins, we were told to get our cameras ready.  The thought that the we were perhaps only ten or fifteen minutes away was incredibly exciting, but only a few seconds later we rounded a corner to find a gorilla lazily eating away in a bush not three metres from us!  I couldn’t believe we were so close, but this was just the start of an amazing hour or so we spent with around fifteen of these animals.  We watched them eating, sleeping, playing, eating, climbing trees, eating some more!  Many of their waking hours are spent eating to maintain their bulk, much like Americans.  ONLY JOKING ALL MY FRIENDS IN THE STATES!!!

These primates are extremely sociable, living in groups governed by an alpha male, the silverback, responsible for the safety of the group.

But they didn’t seem to mind our presence; while we were careful not to scare or startle any of them, it was incredible how close we were.  It was like being on the set of Gorillas in the Mist, or one of those David Attenborough documentaries.  Except for the constant wind!!  Gorillas definitely have a flatulence problem that would not have been out of place in the boys’ dormitory at the lodge – not mentioning any names!

Buoyed by the exhilaration of our time with the gorillas, we said goodbye to our new friends and set off on the steep, but fortunately relatively short hike back.  This was an experience that will stay with me forever.

Gorilla facts:

  • Much like human finger prints, each gorilla has a unique nose print.
  • Gorillas build a new nest every night
  • Gorillas have longer arms than legs
  • Gorillas normally walk on the knuckles of their hands
  • Gorillas can be taught sign language.  Don’t believe me?  Then watch this!

Posted on June 10, 2012, in 3. Gorilla tracking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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