Thursday, 1 December 2011

Tracking man’s cousins
Gorilla tracking remains one of the most mysterious and satisfying wildlife experiences on the wish list of Uganda’s tourists. While the adventure costs $500 (Shs1,425,000) per person including permits, tracking and gate fees, satisfaction if guaranteed after spending some time with mountain gorillas of Uganda at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, one of the most beautiful rainforest you will ever see. Of the world’s estimated 740 mountain gorillas, 320 reside in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park although the figures may be subject to change after findings of the the 2011 Bwindi gorilla census are released sometime next year.
at Ruhija there is tracking of the new Oruzogo gorilla family, one of the 10 families in the park, after a year of habituation (meaning that they are used to people and are not prone to attack). It comprises 28 members and is yet to officially unveiled. They include two sliver backs, eight juveniles, five infants, five black backs and eight adult families.
Set off for the forest at 8am. Bwindi is nicknamed the ‘impenetrable forest’, and I have got to say that it’s easy to see why; at times it was literally impossible to make your way through the vegetation, even with the trackers carving a path for us with their machetes.
Heavy rains and dying plants nourish this dense forest, but the gentleness of the morning and calm stirring grass and vines along the trails cunningly hide the never-ending dramas of the impenetrable forest. As you follow old trails and communicate with pre-trackers who follow the gorillas early in morning to avoid tourists getting lost, and moving long distances without finding the primates, you find over 300 bird species, as well as 120 mammal species and an amazing 1000 different plant species in this very small forest (about 33.7qkm).
Clad in a rain coat because of heavy rains with gumboots to stop black aunts from entering my clothing, we trek the forest down three steppe hills. With some people falling because of the muddy trails, we brave the long hectic journey to track primates believed to have 94.7 per cent DNA similarity with humans.
Meeting man’s ‘cousins’
After about three hours of pushing through this thick vegetation on steep terrain panting and cooling the body system with litres of drinking water, we seemed to be nowhere near any gorillas. But finally, we came to a valley in the jungle, about 7metres in diameter, where the pre-trackers were waiting for us. “Keep quiet, put your flash cameras off, maintain the 7-metre distance from the animals and drop your walking sticks like you were told during a de-brief because we have arrived, said Mr Benson Kanyonyi, a ranger guide at the park, whose experience spans 14 years. We all studied the area with a new interest and excitement. I noticed distinct impressions in the leaves – nests made by massive creatures.
Suddenly, I heard branches to my immediate right snap as if a tree was falling and a very big rumbling noise beyond anything I had ever experienced! And then there was this smell, like a pungent body odour worse than that of a human who hasn’t bathed in a month. It was then whispered that we were among the gorillas. I strained my eyes towards the shaking shrub and there was nothing to see, but the raspberry bushes.
Another look, and there appeared a couple of square inches of black fur. We got a glimpse of a female with a baby balanced on her back and a youthful gorilla feasting on berries on a tree. Finally, we went near the silverback seated immersed on bushes pluck-eating branches of berries. Suddenly, our luck dramatically changed, the silverback started moving further away, ignorantly exposing himself the more.
We kept following him but he on several occasions barked at us which the ranger guide said was a warning for having broken the 7metre distance away from the animal as we strived to get better shots on our cameras.
We then climb another hill right from the valley amid heavy rains where we found ‘Busungu’ named after his aggressiveness and he charged against us. With the great fatigue, we couldn’t dare him any more, so we took a tactful withdraw.
Irreplaceable experience
this was a lifetime experience. No matter how much you watch mountain gorillas on television or even try hard to imagine what meeting them might actually be like, nothing can quite prepare you for this direct encounter.
Then, all too soon, we were told it was time up (an hour being the limit for gorilla visits). We withdrew to make our way back. I was pretty contented and gathered more courage to climb back the three steppe hills out of the forest to Buhoma that was my next destination.

1 comment:

  1. Wow Really nice information you have provided. Thanks for sharing with us.

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