A few years ago I travelled to Uganda with Intrepid Travel to see the incredible mountain gorillas living their peaceful lives in Bwindi National Park. My trip coincided with trouble in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rebels had forced rangers to abandon Virunga National Park. The experience left me reflecting on man’s inhumanity to man, but also admiring the wonderful conservation efforts that go into saving the species. This was one of my most memorable travel experiences; and one I would highly recommend.
The twisted jungle
‘You are about to enter the impenetrable forest!’ says our guide, and the excitement and nervousness of our group is palpable.
Even the name evokes imagination, of the deepest darkest jungle concealing another world and another time. When George Schaller, author of The Year of the Gorilla, first came to Africa in 1959 local Bantus avoided the forest, fearing wild animals and evil spirits.
Schaller taught himself how to track gorillas, but these days’ local villagers work as guides, trackers and porters. En route they point to flattened foliage, remains of plants gorillas eat and fresh dung.
The silverback arrives
Forty minutes into the hike our guide signals us to stop. The gorillas are heading our way. I scan the bushes for movement. Then I see him. The silverback! I hold my breath as he gambols toward me, effortlessly brushing aside thick vegetation, and stopping within 10 metres.
This is a moment I’ve dreamt of for years, after reading Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist. It’s my first glimpse of this incredible animal, and the moment is all the more poignant because I know it is happening against the odds.
The magical moment
Two youngsters play-fight about 10 metres away from where I am crouched. At first I think they are oblivious to my presence, but their wrestling brings them closer and closer until they are within a couple of metres of me. It’s like watching children play. They pull faces, roll in the dirt, and generally try to get the attention of the adults.
Suddenly, they stop wrestling and turn to look at me. The smallest gorilla tilts his head quizzically and looks right into my eyes, captivating me instantly. Suddenly, he grabs a nearby vine and swings away, his companion close behind. It’s a magical moment that stays with me long after I leave Africa.
Have you been to see the mountain gorillas? Or have you witnessed any other incredible wildlife that took your breath away? What have been your favourite wildlife experiences?
To read my full article Uganda Wildlife Safari with Mountain Gorillas, which was published by Adore Animals, click here.
Photos by: Hayley Plozza, Wes Hollick & Karen Graham