What does one do when confronted by a massive 1.9 m (6 ft 3 in), 220 kg (490 lb) creature in the midst of a dark and quiet jungle? Do you scream, cry or are you riveted to the spot in awe?
Some have described seeing a gorilla in person for the first time as a religious experience. A friend once told me that staring into the unswerving steady and wise gaze of a silverback started up such a violent joyful emotional reaction that she as reduced to uncontrollable weeping and her tour guide literally had to carry her down the mountain.
I’m not suggesting the same will happen to you, but an encounter with one of the world’s most mysterious and yet most spiritual creatures should certainly be on your bucket list.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two most endangered apes in the world (along with the Cross River Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla diehli). There are only approximately 655 mountain gorillas alive today, and all of them are found in the wild. They only exist in two small, protected afromontane forest patches in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
• The two forest patches in which mountain gorillas are found effectively divide the 655 into two distinct populations. One population, in Uganda, is found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), covering about 330 km2. The other population inhabits the Virunga Volcano Region, which sits across the international borders of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC.
• The Virunga Volcano Region (VVR) is ecologically homogenous, but separated into three national parks, in three countries: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcano National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, covering an approximate total area of 300 km2 .
The mountain gorillas live in stable family groups with a dominant silverback male, his harem of females, and their offspring.
• The silverback male is usually the father of the offspring, although the younger males will take an opportunity to mate with a female if the silverback is not looking.
• They are not ferocious creatures. On the contrary, they’re very peaceful. They only become aggressive if one of their group is perceived to be threatened.
• American zoologist Dian Fossey brought worldwide focus on the plight of gorillas during her close and extensive study of gorilla groups in the mountain forests of Rwanda over a period of 18 years. It is believed her opposition to their poaching led to her still unsolved murder in 1985.
Gorilla watching Guidelines:
- To minimize possible transmission of human diseases, you will be asked to maintain a distance of 7m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas.
- When with the gorillas, keep your voice low.
- Try not to make rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
- If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions.
How to get there:
1. The Rwanda Tourism Office facilitates visits to the mountains and gives strong advisories on how to view these fascinating creatures. There is a fee for visiting the gorillas – US$500 per person for non-nationals, US $250 for foreign non residents and 20,000 Frw for Rwandan citizens. This is inclusive of park entry fees. http://www.rwandatourism.com/primate
2. The Peregrine Reserve Tour company offers 5 day tour packages to the mountains that include Breakfast daily, 3 lunches, 4 dinners, local beer, wine and spirits. Independent travel departures are available daily on request. http://www.peregrinereserve.com