Trekking up near-vertical slopes of dense lush emerald green rainforest; our trackers hacked their way through this ancient jungle without breaking a sweat….meanwhile our group pushed on – with gritted teeth and pure determination as the walkie talkie crackled to life and our guide said: “Gorillas up ahead!” Everyone smiled and quickened their pace, finding a last burst of energy after our 2-hour hike in the humidity. This was really going to happen!
Suddenly there was a glimpse of sky and a grassy clearing, and…. nine of the Umubano Mountain Gorillas – the last family group to be habituated to tourists and the reason so many people travel to Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. There are about 8 different families living in these Volcanic mountains and this endangered species only survives in Uganda, Rwanda, Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Nothing quite prepares you for how you feel being only 7 metres away from these gentle but giant wild apes – this was the quickest and most rewarding hour of wildlife viewing I have ever had the opportunity to witness. The silverback (Charles) was engaged in conflict resolution of sorts when we arrived – and I am not sure what he thought of coitus interuptus! Then one of the females appeared out of the bush with a 6-month-old baby on her back – wow…He was curious – and ventured to play with his older brother and sisters – jumping on them in good humour and seemingly having the time of his life. Our allotted time nearly over we reluctantly got ready to leave them and then within a few seconds, the silverback charged forward – in curiosity rather than any aggression. However, as I was at ground level ( having wanted to take some natural arty shots in the long foliage!) I was in his direct line and dropped to the forest floor. Curled up in a foetal position I took a sneaky look out of the corner of my eye and all I could see in my field of vision was black fur and two huge limbs….needless to say, he just brushed past me into the forest.
Over supper that evening in our beautiful Virunga lodge surrounded by the picturesque volcanoes my fellow travellers told me how Charles had taken some time to look over this submissive human crouched in the nettles and earth…and what he made of this strange species I just can’t imagine!