Trekking through the thick forests, with the mountain gorillas only a few centimeters away from you, is a very touching and emotional experience.
With a slight nod, the guide invites us to look to our left. And there it is! The first mountain gorilla we see since we started trekking, an hour before. our march through a thick bush of wood is a young male who looks at us with the same curiosity with which we observe him.
In the thick bushes is a young male gorilla who looks at us with the same curiosity with which we observe him. All in silence. Expectant.
We are in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a national park in Uganda where almost half of the world population of these formidable primates live.
Here, at Bwindi, it is possible to observe closely one of the 11 families of gorillas that can be visited today, including Mubare, the first group that was authorized to be observed in 1993.
We followed the instructions of the safari guides and we walked stealthily over a bed of dead leaves and twisted roots amidst lush vegetation.
The next gorilla we discover is an adult female with a small child who, with childish clumsiness, cheerfully moves about in the bushes. As we enjoy the scene, the guide draws our attention again and we all hold our breath.
Just slightly ahead of us, with a straight and taut back, is the great silver back gorilla, Kabukojo, the head of the clan.
His presence is overwhelming. The large male mountain gorillas have 10 times the strength of any of us and can weigh up to over 200 kilograms. Before leaving we had been prepared for this exciting time.
“If the silver back appears, do not look at it in the eyes, lest it feels threatened,” they insisted.
“In addition, always maintain silence, do not make sudden movements and keep a minimum distance of five meters from the gorillas.”
These great gorillas in Uganda share 98% of our DNA, which is very close to the share of chimpanzees (99%) and orangutans (97%).
The number of gorillas left in the world is very limited, and their habitat is very small. Currently, the mountain gorillas live only in 3 areas, namely:-
- The jungles of the Virunga Mountains, between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo
- Their natural habitat in Uganda, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- A small area of the Mgahinga national park, also in Uganda.
Although it depends on which family of these gentle giants you visit, gorilla trekking in Uganda usually lasts between three and six hours.
Such An Exciting Time
Hypnotized, we follow the movements of these prodigious herbivores that can live to 50 years. For about an hour (the maximum time allowed), we stay close to them and watch them play, wandering through the jungle, eating and cooling in their calm home.
Watching them in their natural habitat is a thrilling experience. One has the intimate feeling that behind those bright orange eyes of inquisitive gaze is someone strangely familiar.
Dian Fossey (1932-1985), the American primatologist who studied mountain gorillas for more than 20 years, would recall in her book Gorillas in the Mist, the impressions of her first encounter with the gorillas in Uganda:
“The noise preceded the sight, and the smell preceded both in the form of a penetrating stench of stall and musk, but which also reminded me of the human odor. Suddenly, a series of high-pitched screams ripped through the air, followed by the rhythmic sound of the dry blows that a large silver-colored back hit the chest. (…) Looking through the vegetation, we could distinguish a group of black primates with a hairy head that looked at us curiously. His bright eyes moved nervously under his bushy eyebrows as they tried to identify whether we were family friends or potential enemies. Immediately I was trapped by the physical magnificence of these enormous black gorillas that contrasted with the green of the thick foliage of the forest.”
Despite the peaceful nature of the mountain gorillas, it should be remembered that they are animals and that they react as such.
At one point during our trekking session, I went ahead of the rest of the group to accompany our safari guide in his follow-up on the silver-back gorilla, which, annoyed by the persecution, suddenly stirred.
Grunting and shouting, he shook his fangs sharply, shook his arms violently, and stood within three feet of us.
Everything happened quickly. I felt the guide’s firm hand resting on my arm to prevent my foreseeable instinctive reaction away from the danger, something unwise in such circumstances, for to flee would be to incite the animal to complete its attack.
Luckily the gorilla decided to go his way!
About 880 Gorillas (September 2017)
Ever since the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, starring Sigourney Weaver, spread Dian Fossey’s struggle for the protection of the great apes of the forest, the mountain gorilla population has been fortunately growing.
Of the 250 specimens surveyed in the 1970s, the number of gorillas has grown to about 880.
The combined action of pressure from international agencies and organizations and the economic interest of the Governments of Rwanda, Congo, and Uganda in nature tourism is encouraging the slow but progressive recovery of gorilla populations.