It has always been on my “TO DO” list to see the mountain gorillas in Uganda. At the rate that they are chopping down the forests to plant sugar cane and use the trees for fire wood, it might not be possible to see the gorillas in their natural habitat in a decade or so from now. In 2010, the estimated total number of mountain gorillas worldwide was 790.
I booked a driver to take me to the Queen Elizabeth National Park from Kampala which is a whole days drive, due to heavy traffic and terrible road conditions. I stayed in a beautiful tented camp overlooking the forest.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Reserve was set up in 1942. In 1994, it was acknowledged as the world Heritage site. Rukiga is a language commonly spoke in this area and the word Bwindi in realty means Impenetrable.
Gorilla tracking does not come cheap, the permit to the forest was $750 and then add the accommodation, two full days transport in a 4×4 and so on.
After a detailed briefing we set off very excited, accompanied by guides carrying machetes and AK47’s – which made me feel right at home. The trackers looked for footprints, dung, chewed bamboo and celery stalks, and abandoned nests from the previous evening. After a few hours hike we came across a group of gorillas. We were told to leave our packs behind and take only our cameras.
When everyone was ready, the guide moved forward, making soft smacking and groaning sounds with his mouth, to assure the group that friends were approaching. We were instructed to stay together and crouch down while observing the gorillas so that the dominant male can see you at all times and the family does not feel threatened, surrounded, or overwhelmed. We were told not to stare directly into the eyes of a gorilla and maintain a subservient stance and look at it sideways or from a lower height.
Sitting silently watching the gorilla family going about their day was an amazing experience. The little ones were playing, showing off and even beating their chests under the watchful eyes of their mothers, while the father looked important and very scary (weighing 195 kg and an upright standing height of 150 cm). Our limited time frame of one hour was over quickly and we set off back to the camp with a light feeling in our hearts and a spring in our step.