Gorilla Tracking in Uganda
It seems impossible to me but after all the build-up in expectations the gorilla experience surpassed everything on the safari by far. I had supposed that although the gorillas would be close to us that they would not be fully visible. The reality was simply amazing. The 18 animals in the family we were tracking we’re literally all around us. We kept about a 20 foot distance but at times the gorillas violated the rules. At one point a female came from behind me and passed less than a meter from me. I was so surprised that I have no pictures of her.
The hike to find this family was a cake walk. We walked for 2 hr and gained about 200 m (1500 to 1700 m). We would have been much quicker if we did not have to wait for a woman in another group who was a smoker (age about 65) and probably had very compromised lungs. The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest did not live up to its name and was quite open and easy to walk through even when we left the trail to get to the gorillas. The terrain was not particularly challenging.
The tracking process is painless for the paid guests as there is team in the forest with GPS devices to tell our guides exactly where to go. The scouts are in eye contact with the gorillas before we enter the forest.
When we arrived, the gorillas were all in trees (they were eating fruit we were told) and hard to see. No problem says the guide, they will come down shortly. Sure enough in about 5 minutes the Silverback came down from about a 2 ft diameter tree. He looked like King Kong. It was hard to imagine an animal that big (300 kg or so) up in a tree. After the Silverback came down all the rest came down. One little guy rode a sapling down as a kid would (and just like kid he got a nasty surprise when near the ground the sapling broke and he fell the last 8 ft or so – he showed no sign of injury as he got up and scampered off).
As we were standing around watching the gorillas come down the guide had us move a few feet as there was a female gorilla immediately above us and she would have touched me as she came down.
Once the gorillas were down they spread out a bit and the big guy sat on the ground with his back to us for a while. The Silverback began eating in a few minutes but did not really get into it. The females seemed much more intent on interacting with the 2 babies and the two smaller youths (the youths are about 4 years old I think). The youths were into various rough house games that looked like wrestling.
The gorillas were all around us and as they moved, the guide allowed us to move also to a distance of 7 meters. At the end of the allotted hour, the animals seemed to declare that the interaction was over and moved with much more purpose, disappearing into the undergrowth. This will rate as the high point of my trip and an experience of a lifetime.
by Pat McGill (client) March 2012