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. This trip has proven so popular that the government has increased the park fee for your one hour visit with the mountain gorillas.
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! 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!
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.
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
They have great dexterity in spite of their huge hands
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. 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. Our hotel had a 45 minute “welcome” dance for us by some cute kids. When we first arrived it was pouring rain, and we did not know anything about it. The rain stopped after an your, the sun came out, and we ran outside when we heard this dance starting
Click on the photo below to see the last 15 seconds of this dance
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
We were mobbed by the “gorillas” every time they cornered our vehicle
They carry everything on their heads. This rock weighs over 70 pounds.
Rwanda is a mountaneous country with a dependence on agriculture. The weather is conducive to several crops. Unfortunately, the people farm the land adjacent to the gorillas and the National Park, so conflict is increasing as the population expands.
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 the 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.
Some groups have to walk for the better part of the day to find the gorillas. We had an easy 2 hour trek to meet the park rangers that watch over them. From then on it was Francois, us, and the gorillas.
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 roam 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 park rangers. The two men on the right are our porters, the two in the center are the park rangers 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
He spent several minutes getting his lunch prepared
When it was just right he munched (loudly) away
Guess who was keeping an eye on us as we watched this youngster?
Its easy to see why he is called a silverback
He ate vegetation right in front of us, pretending not to notice our presence. Francois made many calming gorilla sounds when the silverback came this close.
It was fascinating to watch how he held the food with his hand, and how he ate it
This is the silverback that walked right past me in the video above
Apparently he was used to having his picture taken
He gave a few different poses. It reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was in a body building competition!
After a short while he decided just to stare at us
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
He had a huge head
Did I mention how large is head was?
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.
She figured if she kept still we would not see her
She stayed hidden for several minutes
As she felt more comfortable with our presence she showed off her twins
They were only 2-3 days old according to the guides
Many females in the troop had babies
They let us get near them
Most of the babies rode like this
They were as curious about us as we were about them
This one stared at us for quite a while
Like many children he put on a show in front of us
He made sure we were watching him……
…. until he decided to ignore us
The youngsters spent lots of time frolicking
Look at their hands and feet
We are supposed to stay 21 feet away. That is impossible when they are this cute and they come up near you. Some of them have died picking up a virus from visitors, so the rule needs more enforcement
Sometimes they played with the silverback (this is the 440 pounder from above). Can you see him sitting on the youngster?
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?