Photos won’t possibly do justice to the experience of being within a meter of these amazing creatures… but I’m posting some regardless, just to give you a taste of what we saw.
Approximately 706 mountain gorillas survive in the world today, all of them in the wild, and about half of them in Bwindi. On Gus’s birthday (happy first birthday little guy!) I spent the morning on a gorilla trek in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park to spend an hour with them in their natural habitat, just me and the wild mountain gorillas. Well, technically it was just me and Brett, and six other tourists, a park rangers, three trackers, and three armed guards (though I’m not sure if they were there to keep us safe from the gorillas or safe from possible rebels from nearby Congo). It was an amazing experience!
Getting a bit close. We were supposed to be no closer than 7 meters/21 feet, but our guards seem to be the loosest in the park. We spent much of our time within a meter of the gorillas, at which point they’d ask us to move back a bit.
Some background from the web: “In the last century, a combination of hunting and habitat destruction has driven this very rare primate to the verge of extinction. But for the intervention and dedication of a handful of people, the mountain gorilla would surely already be extinct. The work of conservationists such as Carl Akeley, George Schaller and Dian Fossey focused global attention on the plight of gorillas. Mountain gorillas are effectively divided into two distinct populations. The first is confined to an area of around 330 square kms in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The second is found in the Virunga Volcano Region (VVR), which lies across the international borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Checking in at the park is a long process, though still quicker than buying the permits in Kampala.
How you doing Brett?
Are you excited to see the gorillas?
Debbie from San Francisco was definitely excited to see the gorillas. Was great to see her and her 68 yr old hubby Gerald out there, hiking up to the top of the mountain. I doubt every 68 yr old would be able to do the trek and was impressed to see them join in… no other way to get to the gorillas unless you’re up for the “bush hike.”
First sign of gorillas: adult gorilla poop!
All of what we saw we saw from a distance in their natural habitat… there were always branches in the way, there was a bazillion flies surrounding them (and then us), and it was just astounding regardless!
The Rushegura group we visited had 15 gorillas… and they did family things like climb all over dad while he was trying to sleep, carry around younger siblings, fight with their brothers and sisters, etc.
Why the guard didn’t look more excited is beyond me. I think I’d be happy to spend a year up there with the gorillas and suspect it’d never get old…
I was in the front taking pictures, crouched down low so others could stand and take pictures over my head. Usually when the gorillas got too close, the guards would instruct us immediately to move back. And we knew the rule about the silverback… if he charges, just crouch down and whatever you do, don’t run as it’ll only get worse! Well, I was crouched down when this 3 year old comes running up at me. I immediately start to move back to keep the meter space between us but the guard warns me against it and says I should stay very still. Yikes! He was only three, but still had sharp teeth and was strong enough to thrash me if he wanted to. Instead he walks up to where I’m crouching with the guard at my side, and is about a foot from me. He reaches up, swats once at the guard’s arm, then bounds off to play more with his friends. Deep sigh of relief from me! They’re cute and funny and playful and furry, but they’re still wild at the end of the day and the risk is still there (as are the three armed men with rifles, yikes).
One of my favorite things to watch them do was climb up a branch after a sibling, the branch then couldn’t sustain the weight of both 2-3 yr old gorillas, then they’d crash down together on top of each other and on top of the other family members below. Highly entertaining every single time!
Giant silverback!! There’s usually one adult male per family and this big guy was it! Why the name? The males develop a silver spray of hair across their back and hips, earning them the name ‘silverback’. This generally takes place around 15-17 years of age, though their lifespan is actually 40-50 years.
Daddy silverback was massive with giant shoulders (and a giant bum). Adult males are usually between 300-600 lbs… I wouldn’t want him chasing after me.
Momma! Females start having kids around age 10-12, their gestation period is 9 months, and their inter-birth interval 3-5 years.
Brett takes more pictures. Yep, we were THAT close!
Hard not to fall in love with these faces and creatures
They can run upright… how cool is that?! I forget the statistic about how much DNA we share, but it’s a remarkably high number…
Gorilla hug or headlock?
Got a little nervous when the playful little guy picked up the log, but eventually he lost interest…
I’m sweaty, dirty, fly covered and entirely too excited to be with the gorillas!
Really… I know photos won’t convey everything, but still. I wouldn’t say it was “life changing” like one woman on our trip asserted, but do believe me when I say it was absolutely awe inspiring!
Harder than the trek up and harder than the muddy trek down in the pouring rain was saying bye at the end of our visit…