Mountain Gorillas... Absolutely Amazing!!!

Trip Start Jul 23, 2010
Trip End Apr 17, 2011

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Flag of Uganda  ,
Monday, January 24, 2011

There was a group of eight of us from different lodges that had permits to see the Nkuringo family of forest gorillas today.  Mount gorillas are found in only three countries on the planet – Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.  The total population of mountain gorillas worldwide is estimated at 720, half of which are found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which also happens to be a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site.  The rest of the world’s mountain gorilla population is to be found in the Virunga Volcanoes shared by Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park protects the northern part of the volcano slopes.

To promote mountain gorilla conservation, gorilla tourism started in Bwindi Impenetrable national Park in 1993 with two gorilla groups being habituated.  Habituation is the process of making gorilla groups accustomed to humans, thereby facilitating close interaction without the danger of gorillas displaying aggressive behavior or even attacking in self-protection. This step is key to preparing gorilla groups for tourism and it takes about three years to habituate a gorilla group.  The importance of this process is best appreciated in the light of the fact that, due to their protected status, there is no mountain gorillas to be found in captivity and can only be viewed in their natural habitat.  

There are seven gorilla groups in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks, both in Uganda.  The Nkuringo group that Jim and I spent time with is made up of 21 gorillas.

• Silver Backs 2 (Over 15 years)
• Adult Females 4 (9+ years)
• Males (Black Backs) 5 (8-12 years)
• Sub-Adults 2 (5-8 years)
• Juveniles 1 (3-5 years)
• Infants 7 (0-3 years) (twins born October 2008)

The walk started from the ranger station at the top of the mountain and went down into the valley, where the primary forest begins.  We decided to take porters, because of the terrain and likelihood of rain, making the trail very slick.  As it turned out, we didn’t get more than a little drizzle, but the trek was challenging anyway, especially for Jim with his ankles.  Our porters were Stephen and Philemon, both students in Senior 3 (Secondary School), on break from school for December and January. The money they make from portering assists them and their families in funding school fees.

The descent was steep in some places, even more challenging in spots than Kili.  The park
service had two scouts out ahead of us to track where we might find the gorilla group today.  They can travel great distances, especially if there has been fighting or fear of predators /
poachers.  However, before we even reached the valley, our guide, Herbert, who works for the park, told us the group had been spotted ahead, which would make our arrival much sooner than is frequently the case.  That was good news!   We now knew exactly where to go, and Herbert, his assistant guides and our porters guided us off the trail, through the bush, directly to where the group was situated. 

It was amazing that our presence didn’t seem to bother the gorillas, in spite of there being babies among the group.  We were so close, the gorillas could reach out and touch you, and one of them did brush her hand along the arm of a woman from the Netherlands.  We were advised in advance that it was not permissible for us to touch them, but if they attempted to touch us, that was OK. 

Herbert’s assistants cleared brush away for us to get a closer look at each of them – we had 15 of the 21 gorillas in the group right there with us, not common according to Herbert.  You’ll see lots of flies on the photos and video, but they didn’t bother us; they had enough gorillas to keep them busy, I think. 

While we were observing the gorillas, Herbert’s staff was busy noting which members of the group were present, looking for any evidence of injury, health problems or pregnancy, and noting the specific GPS location of the group at this time.

Our time allotment was 1 hour once we arrived, and wouldn’t you know, the gorillas knew when an hour was over, as they started to make their way to another location just as our 1-hour expired. 

We made our way back to the camp in the valley to have lunch, which was packed by our lodge anticipating a long day.  We had a choice at this point:  make the hike up or be carried by porters… it was a logical choice for Jim, as his legs were spent from the trek to and from the gorillas.  While it may have been a bit embarrassing for Jim, it was the right decision, and preserved what was left of his legs for the rest of the trip.  As it was, it took us 2 hours to make the trek back up, with Jim about 15 minutes behind.  It turns out, the cot/stretcher the porters brought him up on was last used by the King of the local kingdom, so he had a lot of heads turning as he was being “run” up the hill.  There were 12 porters working in 3 four-man shifts, handing off in stride from one group to the next. They literally ran him up, as they made light conversation with each other.  No embarrassment was justified – Jim made the trip down a very difficult mountain, and surpassed what even I expected him to be able to do!

The worst part of the trip was the forest trek – being in the bush, where you didn’t know where you were stepping.  What looked to be solid footing wasn’t always solid, but a web of vines and leaves that disguised a hole or ridge.  Nonetheless, he did it, and we rewarded the porters for the great service!

At the top, we visited a local shop, where local children crafted some wonderful items.  We even got a formal certificate from the park authority, recognizing our first-hand visit with the gorilla group.

Because we made such good time on the way down, and found the gorillas so quickly, we were back to our lodge before 3:00, plenty of time to relax before a private dinner in our room in front of the fireplace.

And some time on the computer to check on the results of the Green Bay Packers… congratulations!  Our next feat will be to determine from where we will be able to watch the Super Bowl.

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cheri ayers on

Jayne and Jim.
What a great adventure you both did. It's a blessing to be able to experience such a wonderful creation in it's own environment. How greatly you can appreciate the beauty of the gorilla's.

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