People travel halfway round the world and spend $500 on a permit to see Uganda’s gorillas but some jammy buggers just happen to be in the neighbourhood and get offered free passes. Don’t you just hate people like that?
But I thought we were friends?
Despite working in conservation, seeing the gorillas has never been top of my wildlife wishlist – I still can’t get enough safaris or birding – but I have to say: today was very special.
After an early start, and a briefing by our Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) guide David, we trekked uphill through a small tea plantation and a field of bananas. “But the other hills we can climb them seated” advised David, as we slid down a muddy hillside to the edge of the forest.
It was a typical misty Bwindi morning – it’s not called the Impenetrable (Rain)forest for nothing! Treks to find the gorillas vary; occasionally the gorillas are seen in the grounds of the lodges around Bwindi. Sometimes you may have to walk three, four or even five hours before you find them. The walk through the countryside (one and a half hours in our case) was a big part of the thrill for me: would we turn a corner and find the gorillas right in front of us? How would they react?
And finally, in a dense section of the forest, clambering through the bushes, we met up with the UWA rangers who would show us where the Habinyanja family were that morning, a group of 10 or more gorillas, feeding and sleeping. No-one seemed at all perturbed by our presence, as we shuffled quietly from tree to tree, peering through the dark green of the forest to make out mothers’ suckling babies and young adults grooming each other, all just a few metres away from us. Even the Silverback, the often awesome male leader, slept through our entire visit (grunts notwithstanding), merely a glimpse of silver grey fur through the foliage.
There was no chest thumping, we didn’t get charged at and there were no scenes of drama for the humans to witness on this particular morning. But, not to be ignored, the youngest gorilla of the group entertained us to an aerial display, dangling by one arm and pirouetting above us, eye-balling us with those beautiful big black eyes.
He seemed to share our fascination as we watched, transfixed. I’d trek Bwindi all over again, just to relive those few precious moments.
Next lifetime, I’m coming back as a Mountain Gorilla!
With over 4 million views, this video has been an internet sensation: showing one tourist having the type of experience we all dream of. These moments can’t be manufactured, nor can these animals be coerced – and it just shows how gentle and inquisitive they truly are.