Gorillas!

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After two weeks of blog posts about traveling somewhere, finally we’re on some content – gorillas! My first major event at Virunga National Park was going to go see some gorillas in their natural habitat. As explained to us the previous night in a brief by a ranger, we were off to see a family of 27 gorillas that had been habituated to human contact and were constantly tracked by park rangers. I woke up pretty early and enjoyed watching the sunrise over the park and watching the mountains come out of the mist. There was drumming in the distance that started up around 0500 and kept going for an hour. In the morning I also saw some very large hummingbirds getting some breakfast at the flowers around the camp.

We set off probably around 0730 and after another quick briefing we were off to see the gorillas. They were fairly close, but we had to hike for about an hour and a half up a very muddy trail in the quickly warming jungle. Before we set out they had given us face masks to protect the gorillas. The gorillas can contract human diseases and so we had to stay far enough away and wear these masks to prevent germs. Eventually we got to where the other rangers had been tracking the gorillas and were told to don our masks. We stepped off the trail and looked for gorillas.

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Me with the gorillas.

After stepping off the trail, we turned a corner and BAM, gorillas. That was stunning to turn the corner and then just be meters away from four gorillas just chilling on top of a little hill grooming each other. Then I looked around and there were quite a number more in the surrounding area. Experiences like these make me think that bigfoot or the yeti could be real, because despite weighing 500 pounds the gorillas could easily hide in the dense brush and if they didn’t want to be seen you would be hard pressed to spot them.

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Ranger helping Peter get that shot.

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We had an hour allotted with the gorillas. The rangers try to get you to the gorillas around the time they take their mid-morning nap and therefore aren’t moving much, but we showed up a bit early and wound up slowly following the gorillas as they moved through the underbrush eating leaves. We saw all sorts of fun family scenes. I remember seeing a mom holding a baby and a small juvenile hanging out in a little pocket of green and eventually a silverback came over to hang out. I really enjoyed watching the little baby gorillas, especially the ones that were climbing trees and hanging out up there. They were super cute. What else? A couple of times we got really good looks at a silverback just sitting down eating and then maybe moving away. We saw some larger gorillas climb up trees. I guess they’re not supposed to be all that arboreal but they’re pretty good at it despite that.

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Gorilla in a tree.

At one point a silverback got kinda mad at us I guess and came at us. I dropped into a crouch (per our briefing – you’re not supposed to run) but the guides said don’t be scared. He backed off eventually. There was one what I assume was a female that would keep watching us pretty close as she ate. I scared a baby that was staring at me; I waved my fingers and then it looked surprised and ducked down behind some bushes.

Eventually our hour was up and we head back down the trail. The rest of the afternoon was spent just hanging out at Kibumba camp, staring at Nyirogongo and imagining what it was going to be like to climb it the next day. Seeing the gorillas was really cool, and it was amazing to see them in their natural habitat. I was especially pleased that we had a small group; it was just Peter and I and the rangers and the gorillas. If you want to see gorillas I highly recommend coming over to the DRC; this was according to the biased rangers, but not only is seeing gorillas in Rwanda $1400 as opposed to $400 in the DRC, but the rangers say often they don’t even see gorillas. Plus Kibumba Camp at Virunga is gorgeous and just being in the area was phenomenal.

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The baby kept trying to run off and the juvenile kept dragging him back. Babysitting, you know?

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