Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Experience with the Mountain Gorillas
We could almost hear chants of, “Kong! Kong! Kong!” as we approached the rugged peaks of the Sabyinyo volcano in Volcano National Park in Rwanda. We were there to go gorilla trekking. The park only allows 16 people a day to go with the guides; two groups of 8. We were with Elder and Sister Robinson, short term water specialists from the United States. Our main purpose for being in Rwanda was to look at sites for future water projects in the country; trekking was a side trip for us. We met up with our guide and four other trekkers from Austria and headed out at 7:00 A.M.
The gorilla groups are dispersed on the steep, thick forest of the volcanic mountain. We were at 8,000 feet elevation so the weather was fairly cool and comfortable for the strenuous climb up the slopes.
We were going to meet up with the Sabyinyo Group of nine gorillas. This group includes one Silverback, 4 adult females, 1 young female, 2 juveniles and a baby. We were excited to track this group because the Silverback, Guhonda, weighing 520 lbs.,is the largest mountain gorilla ever recorded.
Three trackers go out very early in the morning to locate the gorillas so the guides can intersect their trail. They do not move very far in one day so they can usually be located.
The first gorilla we encountered was the big Silverback, Guhonda. We followed him for about 15 minutes through the thick jungle until we found him lying in a small clearing in the forest.
His size was truly impressive and he seemed unconcerned about our presence.
The next gorilla to show up was the baby, followed closely by the rest of the family.
They emerged very quietly from the thick forest and just suddenly appeared around us.
Guhonda took up his “guard” position where he remained the whole hour we were with the group.
He watched us very closely but did not move from his position the whole time we were there.
We were able to get close to the gorillas while they played and interacted around us. The two guides kept them at a distance by making gorilla noises; “talking” to them. Since the gorillas can contact diseases from humans, they don’t want them to come any closer than 15-20 feet.
We watched the baby alternate between nursing, wrestling with the younger gorillas and putting on a show for us by swinging on the vines in the trees.
The hour with the gorillas passed quickly as we watched them move around us.
As we started the hike down, the sky got very dark and it rained heavily the whole way down. We were grateful that we were not on the way up at the time as the ground got very wet and muddy.
There are only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the world; all in Uganda, Rwanda or the DR Congo. It was an amazing experience being among them….one we will never forget.