Rwanda 2011

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The mountain gorillas in Rwanda are a success story. Their numbers are increasing (720 in the world, 480 are in Rwanda), poaching has diminished, and the local people are reaping the benefits of tourism. There are 16 groups in Rwanda- eight are for tourists to view, 8 are off limits to tourists and are used to study their behavior.

When it comes to primates its all about the eyes, especially for an animal that is closely related to us. We found his silverback (he is at least 12 years old to attain this status) on the first day of our trek.

I love their hands also because they are so human-like

The scenery in Rwanda is lush and beautiful. This is the view from our hotel. The
gorillas are at the base of those mountains. 

Theo was our guide for the trip. His professionalism was a huge part of making this trip successful, especially when he bartered the purchase of fruit for us!

The Rwandans are warm and friendly towards tourists. Our hotel had a “welcome” dance for us by some cute kids. Click on the photo below to see 15 seconds of this dance

Gorilla Dancers

Almost everywhere you go in Rwanda people come to greet you, especially the children. This gives you a feel of why the wildlife are being pushed out by the burgeoning people needing land to feed themselves.

They carry everything on their heads. This rock weighs over 70 pounds.

Rwanda is a mountanous country with a dependence on agriculture

All groups meet at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters for instructions and guide assignments. The maximum number of people in each individual group is 8. 

The mountain gorillas were identified here in 1902

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Our head guide Francois and his assistant are showing us which group we will be
visiting. They know each individual gorilla and its social standing in the group.

Click on this picture to hear a 5 minute detailed introduction to the gorillas by Francois’ assistant. He has an accent so you have to concentrate on what he is saying.

Gorilla briefing

After this introduction Dominic and Francois do their best gorilla imitation to show the silverback who is the boss 

Francois was a porter for Dian Fossey and as such has extensive gorilla knowledge. Francois is showing us the noises he makes to calm the silverback in our presence.

Click on his photo below and you can watch a 1 minute video of him(and Dominic) on how to approach a silverback as we start our trek- he is quite the showman! Once you watch Francois in this video you will swear he is the silverback!

In the video he describes the sounds the silverback makes to give you an indication of his mood. During our actual encounter with the gorillas Francois and his assistant made these friendly and comforting sounds constantly.

Franois Gorilla Imitation

Francois instructed us in proper gorilla behavior in the presence of the silverback. We learned you are to stay 21feet (7 meters) away from them. Looks a little less than 7 meters to me in this photo.

Click on the picture and watch the silverback go right past me as Francois implores me to move out of the way. In the beginning you can hear Francois making his gorilla sounds. As the sliverback gets near me (I was busy filming through my point and shoot camera and not really paying much attention) Francois says “move, move”

Silverback Walk Past

In the recent past some groups had to walk for the better part of the day to find the gorillas. We had an easy 1-2 hour trek to meet the trackers who  watch over them. We start the trek through agricultural land at the edge of the mountain.

Can you guess what we are hiking through?

Potatoes

Francois is in the back, a porter carrying our backpacks is in front of him, and at the very front is a ranger with an AK-47. His primary role is to scare away the occasional cape buffalo that roams the area. 

We enter the thick vegetation at the base of the mountain to find the trackers.
The two men on the right are our porters, the two in the center are the trackers
that keep continual watch on the gorillas, and Francois is on the left.

Francois giving us final instructions before we meet our distant cousins. Click
on the photo to hear several minutes of it.

In the beginning he talks about a wall to help keep the cape buffalo and elephant away from the potato crops.

Final Gorilla Briefing

We leave everything but cameras and follow our guides as they machete through
the thick jungle

The gorillas seem to appear out of nowhere because they are well hidden and you are concentrating on your footing in the jungle. This was our first encounter.

This little guy came closer and proceeded to feed right in front of us

Guess who was keeping an eye on us as we watched this youngster?

Its easy to see why he is called a silverback

This is the silverback that walked right past me in the video above

This is a different group we encountered the next day. Rumor has it there are twins in this group……

This silverback weighs 440 pounds

During our trip we found out that a female gorilla had twins on February 3rd.

We found the mother of these twins as she was hiding from us

We slowly got closer to her to try and get a glimpse of her babies. She stayed behind the leaves most of the time

As she felt more comfortable with our presence we got to see them

Many females in the troop had babies

They were as curious about us as we were about them

The youngsters spent lots of time frolicking

Sometimes they play with the silverback (this is the 440 pounder from above)

The youngsters seem to have no fear of people and come up so close that Francois has to remind you to back away. Notice how this gorilla’s left eye deviates?

The gorilla-meisters!