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.
Our guide Francois was a porter for Dian Fossey, and as such has extensive gorilla knowledge. Francois acts so much like a gorilla that he looks like one!
In the video below Francois is showing us the noises he makes to calm the silverback in our presence. In the video he describes the sounds the silverback makes to give you an indication of his mood. You will also get a kick out of his making Dominic make the same sounds. It’s quite humorous!
At the end of the video you will see how close a silverback comes to Dr. P as he is taking a video with his camera. He wasn’t paying attention, and Francois had to tell him to move or else the silverback would bump into him.
Francois instructed us in proper gorilla behavior in the presence of the silverback. We learned you are to stay 21 feet (7 meters) away from them. Looks a little less than 7 meters in the video!
When it comes to primates it’s all about the eyes, especially for an animal that is so closely related to us. This is a silverback gorilla 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 45 minute “welcome” dance for us by some cute kids.
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.
The kids were always curious about us as we made our trek to see the gorillas
This boy beckoned Dr. P to come over and give him something
They carry everything on their heads. This rock weighs over 70 pounds.
Rwanda is a mountaneous country with a dependence on agriculture
This is the view from the National Park at the beginning of the trek
These are the mountains that contain the gorilla troops
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 entrance to the National Park where all groups meet before their trek
The mountain gorillas were identified here in 1902
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.
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.
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.
The beginning of the trek is easy
Can you guess what we are hiking through?
They are potato fields
Taking a break during the trek
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 above 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.
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
When we were sure the silverback accepted our presence we took this photo
This is the group for our 2nd day with them
This silverback in this group weighs 440 pounds
During our trip we found out that a female gorilla had twins on February 3rd
On our second day we were looking at 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 played 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?