Ugandan Gorilla Tour 24 July 2012

Published: September 9th 2012
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The Ugandan Gorillas – 24 July 2012

We woke up very excited – even though it was 4.30am!! Had breakfast and the group was divided up into 3 groups (8,8 & our group of 6). Each group was allocated a particular family of gorillas to visit as they restrict the numbers of people observing them. Our family of gorillas was the Nshongi family which consisted of 23 members. We got into a Toyota van and drove for 2 hours to the entry of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where we were met by local ranges working for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UGA). Two English people joined our group. We were briefed by our guide on the rules for visiting gorillas. We had our Gorilla permits and had to show our passports. Permits were $US500 which all goes to gorilla conservation.

We bought a book on the 2 main national parks (1 in Uganda and 1 in Rwanda) and about the gorilla families for 10000 U Shillings. There is a cooperative agreement between the Ugandans, Rwandans and Republic of Congo regarding the gorilla conservation as one of the National Parks is in all 3 countries.

After our briefing we hopped back in the van and drove another hour to the starting point of our forest walk. 2 of our members got a porter to carry their backpack and water (including Tom as we had to walk up hills and his chest hadn’t completely cleared so being short of breath was still an issue). It was humid and a little hot too. We walked through very thick forest, with the guide hacking his way through the vegetation. We also had a ranger following the group, carrying a gun. The rangers knew who the friendly gorillas were and which ones weren’t. Our guide was on the 2-way radio, in contact with 2 other rangers who had kept track of the gorilla family over night. They move about 1 km in the evening. The choice of where they go to sleep in the afternoon and over night and where they eat is made by the senior Silverback of the family. Our family has 4 silverbacks with the oldest being the head of the family.

After walking only 30 minutes, our guide said we were close to the gorillas – and suddenly we saw one!!! It was amazing. The 1st gorilla we saw was a 12 y.o. male, quietly chewing small clumps of leaves up a tree. He didn’t mind us being there. It didn’t have any grey on his back. They start to get the silver-backs from about 14 years. Their life expectancy is 40-50 years.

We then saw a 1 y.o. who was awake initially then settled down in a tree fork to sleep. Then all of a sudden, we saw a big silverback who was 25 y.o. with a withered arm. The guide cleared the vegetation again and we sat 2 metres away from him. He was as big as we were. We sat with him for 10 minutes. Then we heard more movement, and another silverback started wandering towards us. He was even bigger – and a 28 year old who was the active leader of the family of 23 gorillas. He too was friendly..and so close. We then saw a mother with the youngest in the family – a 5-month old female. All together, we saw 14 gorillas. They were moving through the trees, eating, sleeping and watching us. For a full hour, we were observing them. It was incredible to see them, and for them to allow us to observe them for so long.

Eventually we had to drag ourselves away from them. This has to be one of the very best experiences of my life – Tom agreed it was his best. We were also pleased to hear of the conservation strategies that were being implemented, including the prevention of the expansion of villages in the gorillas’ habitat areas. The population of gorillas are expanding which was excellent to hear.

When an old silverback dies, the rangers now take the bodies away and bury them so that the incidence of disease is reduced. The remaining silverbacks then go through this domination process to decide who will be the next leader. The guide also told us a story about a mother having twins and 1 twin did not survive but she carried it around for several days, not realising one of her babies had died. She finally discarded the dead twin.

We then started to walk out the forest, returning as we came in. We had to cross a small river over a little rickety bridge which reminded me of the Kokoda Track. We then had a very steep climb up the hill (which was very easy to climb down on the way into the forest). Tom struggles, and was very pleased to have the porter who pulled him along. We walked through a village. All children are unwashed with runny noses. As we were walking up the steep hill, 2 women carrying big baskets on their head and a baby in a sling on their back passed us. They we so fit.

After passing through the village we stopped and our guide handed out our Gorilla Watching Certificates with o9ur names on them. Everyone got their certificates and the last person to get theirs was Tom. The guide said “and now for the Silverback of our group Tom Usher” and we all clapped. It was fantastic. We then saw our van and driver, thanked our guide and rangers by giving them a tip, and drove back to our camp which took 2 ½ hours. We were all bubbling when we got back to camp, with all 3 groups sharing their stories. Every group had their own wonderful experiences.


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