My First Encounter with a Mountain Gorilla
The year was 2005 during the month of July and the location was the small community of Buhoma; starting point for gorilla treks into the magnificent Bwindi Impenterable forest. A spectacular and ancient remnant of an extensive forest which used to cover the entire south west of this green and vibrant country. Many of the best wildlife lodges in Uganda have direct views into the forest and a few very lucky visitors even glimpse sightings of the resident gorilla families from their own private balconies; before the official gorilla trekking has even begun.
Whats the Gorilla Trek briefing and why is it important
The park headquarters where you will be allocated a particular gorilla family to trek and meet your guide and porters is only a short distance by car from your lodge and any client showing serious symptons of cold or flu will not be allowed to trek in order to protect the health of one of the most endangered primates in the world. The park authorities have the right to refuse clients whi are sick to undertake the trek and if this happens part of your permit cost will be refunded.
The meeting starts with a talk about what the trek will involve and some further information about the gorilla family members, before either taking a car to the gorilla trek starting point, or actually starting the trek from the park headquarters itself – depending on which of the gorilla families you are allocated to.
How fit do I need to be to go gorilla trekking?
Mentally I was prepared for a hard physical slog and certainly the first 1 hour climb from the park headquarters up slippy, thicky vegetated slopes was a challenge; with a medium level of fitness and leg flexibility definitly required as you often lost your footing – even with the stout sticks given out freely by the guides and porters. I paid for a local porter to carry my camera bag, as not only does that provide an income for the local people, but it also decreases the amount of sweating you will experience in what is often a very humid and warm environment.
When you track Gorillas in Bwindi you know which of the groups you will be following when your permit is issued. I was with the Mubare group, which was the smallest group in Bwindi and consists of one silverback and 7 other individuals. Amazingly within 45 minutes of tough slippy walking we found ourselves a short distance from the Mubare group. At this point all extra baggage including lunch is dropped off and left with the park guards and you walk towards the group with only your camera and video gear. The reason for dropping the bags seemed to be a combination of the gorillas feeling threatened by the more gear visitors were carrying and also helped the group be more mobile while navigating both the forest and the gorilla family to take photos and get a good view of their behaviour.
The intimacy and joy of being with the Gorillas
We immediately located a mother and her infant about 10 foot off the ground in a temporary nest. It was a privilege to watch the youngster and its mother interact in such a tender and loving way The forest in this part of their range is very open and the bright sunshine that now shone down on us made photography a bit tricky. There is no doubt in my mind that for people seeing Gorillas for the first time, there is a tendency to go over the top and be constantly taking pictures and video footage. This is understandable, but it must be remembered that you have an entire hour with these wonderful animals and numerous photo opportunities will present themselves. It is such a wonderfully intimate experience that it pays to try and relax and simply enjoy being in the company of the Gorillas.