During my safari trip in Rwanda, I visited Volcanoes National Park in the north-western corner of Rwanda, on the border with Congo to the west and Uganda to the north, to see the largest of the Great Apes, the Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei, german: Berggorilla, french: Gorille des montagnes). It was an awesome experience!
It was an early start, we were supposed to be at the ranger station by 7:00. There are five groups of Gorillas that are habituated for tourists (and five others habituated for research). Each of the five tourist groups is visited once per day by a group of a maximum of eight tourists. In the morning, before the regular briefing, the rangers first talk with the tour guides, to get an idea of how fit the tourists are. That determines who they assign to which group. Some of the groups are high in the mountains, and are very difficult to reach. You have to be very fit and experienced to go to the difficult groups. I asked my guide to get me into an easy group, after the experience with negotiating the steep mountain in Nyungwe National Park during Chimpanzee trekking. I didn't want to have to do an even more difficult trek up a volcano.
Once the rangers have decided who will go to which group, each group of tourists is briefed on the Gorilla group that they will visit. Our Gorilla group was the Kwitonda group. It has 15 members, including an 8 month old baby. The silverback is Kwitonda himself. The female that was nursing the youngest baby is Mbilimbili. The youngest baby is Urwego, the other two babies playing were Karibu and Lisanga. The male in the tree was Okapi. The Gorillas are characterized and recognized by their nose print, a drawing of their nose and nostrils. It seems that this is unique enough to identify each Gorilla.
After the briefing, it was back into the vehicles, to drive to the volcano. Like at the Chimpanzees, this was a very bad road. One of the Landcruisers ended up in the ditch, and had to be pulled out. At the end of the road we started walking into the jungle. It was about a 1 ½ hour walk to the Gorillas. Fortunately, it was more or less level, not much climbing involved. Just short of the Gorillas, we left all our luggage, walking sticks, and water. We took only cameras and camera bags and walked the last 100 m (330 ft) to the Gorillas. And then there they were!! It was just awesome! Standing just 3 m (10 ft) from a huge silverback Gorilla is mind boggling. I think this was one of the greatest wildlife experiences that I have ever had. It is just as exciting as having a tiger look at you from 3 m (10 ft) below you when you are sitting on an elephant (see my trip report about my visit to India).
We stayed at the Gorillas for one hour, then walked back 1 ½ hours. It started to rain about 10 minutes before we reached the cars, so we were very lucky. One of the tourists in my group had trekked to Gorillas the day before. She said it was raining the whole time, and it took them three hours to get to the Gorillas. That was one of the more difficult groups to reach. It sounded like they were pretty miserable on that trek, and they didn't see the Gorillas as well as we did. I think I was very lucky on this Gorilla trek.
All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.
From the Mountain Gorilla entry in Wikipedia:
The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei, german: Berggorilla, french: Gorille des montagnes) is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. The other is found in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Some primatologists consider the Bwindi population in Uganda may be a separate subspecies, though no description has been finalized. As of September 2016, the estimated number of mountain gorillas remaining is about 880.
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Page last updated on Tue Sep 24 18:19:03 2019 (Mountain Standard Time)
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