Gorillas in the Garden

Louisa, one of our Africa Consultants, was recently spoilt on a trip to Uganda and Rwanda, and not only had two sightings of our friendly-giant friends but didn’t even have to trek that far to see them!

I have been desperate to see mountain gorillas for as long as I can remember, a passion ignited when I saw the David Attenborough documentary when I was at school. My excitement hit fever pitch when I finally arrived at the airport to fly to Uganda and then onwards to Rwanda.

For my first trek in Uganda, we had been warned that the gorillas in Bwindi require a longer and tougher trek than their cousins in Rwanda, so we met our group with nervous anticipation, all of us kitted out for the long hard trek into the forest to find the Mubare family. We set off, chattering away excitedly as we made our way along the river and through the bamboo which gorillas are rather partial to. We then came across something which even to the untrained eye looked like gorilla droppings…the gorillas really weren’t far away! We simply strolled up the hill…and into the local doctor’s garden, which was about 200 metres from Volcanoes Bwindi Lodge where we were staying!  So much for our arduous trek!  Apparently this is not uncommon in October and November when the gorillas move lower down the mountains to feed and are sometimes even spotted in the grounds of the Bwindi Lodge.

We were lucky to have the most incredible sighting and had the advantage of being in the open so I didn’t have to cope with the trickier light conditions that can be a problem in the forest for those wishing to photograph. We spent a wonderful hour with the gorilla family which had a young three month old baby playing with a huge silverback as they fed; there was a curious and energetic youngster, who, as we watched, shimmied up a eucalyptus tree to feed. The magical hour passed in a flash but I am thrilled to have remembered a tip from a friend – which was not to spend the entire afternoon watching the gorillas through the view finder of the camera but instead to sit back, soak up and enjoy the experience. I have to own up to shedding a few tears as I walked away from the gorillas, the emotion of the morning caught up on me.

A couple of days later and this time we were at Volcanoes Virunga Lodge overlooking the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, setting off on our second trek to see the Hirwa family. This time we had a wonderful walk through Rwandan villages and fields until we reached the wall which marks the edge of the park. Again we were lucky and had a fairly short walk through the bamboo forest until we discovered the family of gorillas feeding. It was a completely different sighting to Bwindi. A couple of the blackback gorillas (younger than the silverback and lower down in the pecking order) were lounging in the branches, and we watched while a heavenly two month old baby gorilla learned rather unsteadily how to walk.  The highlight was the sight of a tiny gorilla, probably weeks old, feeding in its protective mother’s arms.  The whole scene was being calmly watched over by the vast silverback. One of the ultimate highlights of both treks for me was when a young gorilla walked past me and then stopped to play with my shoe laces, while I just stood in awe and tried to remember to breathe!  I would highly recommend taking two treks as during your first trek it is hard to concentrate on taking in the gorillas; on my second trek it was wonderful just to be able to sit and absorb the interactions of these close relations who share 98% of our DNA.

IMG_4449Seeing the gorillas on your bucket-list? Speak to one of our Africa Consultants on 0203 603 3555 for more information or visit scottdunn.com

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