Gorillas in the mist

Looking into the eyes of a mountain gorilla is like looking at an old friend, someone you once knew, and someone with whom you share the same history. The great apes (gorilla, orang utan, chimpanzee and bonobo) are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom and yet they all face extinction in a not so distant future. In the Virunga National Park in Rwanda and Bwindi Impenatrable Forest National Park in Uganda, around 650 mountain gorillas still survive. Those two parks are like two sanctuary islands in an ocean of farms, crops and human population everywhere. The region endured chaos, war, poverty, population growth, but despite life being against them, the mountain gorillas, incredibly survived.

These days, both in Uganda and Rwanda, tourists can for a short hour, admire those magnificent animals. The money you pay for a gorilla trek permit directly goes to the conservation and running of the national park. And indeed, the conservation effort seems to be effective, the population numbers have stabilized the last few years and poaching is decreasing. How long that will last however, nobody knows.

I trekked the gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and I now know why the locals gave the forest its name. We had to follow dirt trails for about two hours and a half to go deep into the forest and then the last hour and a half before we reached the gorillas was madness. I was drenched in sweat due to the heat, flies and mosquitoes were swarming around us, the slope was really strong (preferred gorilla habitat) and we could only go forward with the help of a machete. But the sheer joy I experience when I had my first gorilla sighting made it all worthwhile and a lot more.

Luckily I was the only tourist on my group that day so I had the whole hour for myself with the gorillas. They were standing just a couple of meters away from me. Sometimes running as close as 3-4 meters before we retreated a bit to let them have the space they need. We followed the whole little family of Mishaya (about 10 gorillas) while they were having lunch, jumping on trees, rolling on the ground and basically just ignoring us.

It’s safe to say that being that close to wild mountain gorillas is so far my biggest wildlife experience, it beats car and walking safaris, diving … I had never felt that close to nature before. I took a lot of pictures and movies for the short hour I could spend with them and luckily I didn’t have to fight for prime position with other people as I was the only tourist on the tracking group (a guide, a ranger, a porter and me). This picture above is my favorite, not because it is the one with the best techniques, colors, or anything else but simply because it represents all the things the mountain gorillas were when I watched them: gentle, playful, innocent…

If you want to know more about mountain gorillas or support them, just google Diane Fossey’s Gorilla fund, they need a lot of help if they are to survive for years and years to come …


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