Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tracking Mountain Gorillas in Uganada

This morning (22 July) we rise before dawn ready for our Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Southwestern Uganda. The Gorilla population here is approximately 320 with the total Gorilla population being estimated at 706, making them the worlds most endangered ape. After a 2 hour drive and a briefing on the rules of being with the Gorillas we find ourselves on the outskirts of the forest. A group of trackers walk ahead of us in search of a Gorilla family based on where they were the day before. The Gorillas can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 8 hours away and yesterdays group walked for 2 hours before spotting one. 8 of us (this is the daily human interaction limit) along with a guide and some armed men enter the forest. I slip almost immediately down a steep hill. There are no paths and our guides use machetes to cut thorny trees out of the way. Despite being covered from head to toe, the plant life seems to reach out and grab at any exposed hair or clothing.

We hit jackpot within half an hour and the trackers radio through that they have found the Gorilla family that we are looking for. We drop our daypacks as no food or drinks are allowed near the Gorillas and follow our guide for 10 minutes or so to the family. From our first sighting the countdown from 1hour begins as this is the stipulated time allowance to avoid behavioral disturbances to the Gorillas. We have been instructed not to move closer than 7 meters to avoid the spread of human borne diseases to the Gorillas who share 98% of our DNA. The first Gorilla we spot leaves me in awe of their sheer size and human like movements. For the next hour or so we push through thorny trees, use vines to pull ourselves up trees and slide down vertical slopes in order to get closer to these gentle beasts. At one point I am standing extremely close to a large Gorilla when he stands up suddenly with a roar and pounds his chest King Kong style. Assuming he is going to charge and against all instincts I crouch down and cover my face as I have previously been instructed. The Gorilla runs off deeper into the forest and leaves me alone with a pounding heart ad sweaty palms. Meanwhile Brent is being entertained by a young Gorilla who almost seems to be posing for the camera, allowing him to get some great snaps. Before long we are told our hour is up and we begin our trek out of the forest. By following the Gorillas for our allocated hour we find we have moved deep into the forest and so our walk out takes almost two hours. Elated and exhausted we sleep all the way back to our campsite, ecstatic with our sightings.

2 comments:

  1. Just absolutely amazing what a life experience and you tell it so well bub love mum

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