Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The name says it all – “impenetrable”. Located on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, this amazingly rich ecosystem is home to a large variety of mammals, birds, butterflies & vegetation. It is also home to about half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas.
In 1991 they began the process of habituating the first gorilla family (Mubare) and the first gorilla trek was in 1993. Currently there are 19 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi and we were going to see 3 of them – on Day 1 the Habinyanja Group in the Buhoma sector; Day 2 the Oruzogo Group in the Ruhija sector and on Day 3 the Muyambi Group in the Buhoma sector (a new group not yet on the map)
The gorilla trekking experience begins each day with a performance of local dance at one of the 4 visitor centres. After the dance, one of the rangers talks about the park, the trekking experience and the gorillas. Then you are assigned your family for the day and your ranger tells you a bit about the family you’re about to visit.
Our first trek was to the Habinyanja Family in the Buhoma sector. Luckily the orientation centre was just a short walk (downhill) from the lodge. The dance today was done by the ladies of Ride 4 a Woman – a local charity that supports woman struggling with poverty, HIV and domestic violence. They do wonderful work – you can read more about them here if you like…
After the show and our briefing, it was time to head out – we had a 45 minute drive to our start point. This is it. My main reason for coming to Uganda – the opportunity to spend some time with the endangered mountain gorilla! And yes, I’ll admit it, I was nervous. This wasn’t going to be an easy walk in the park.
You can hire a porter to carry your bag and to help you through the forest. They are local people who do this for tips – they aren’t paid by the park and if there are no tourists, there is no work. There is a rotation system and they typically only work a few days a month, less in the off season. And they’re worth their weight in gold! I couldn’t have done it without them!
They do have a chair that you can use if you have mobility issues (see the picture above) – 8 or 10 porters at a time carry the chair. There are 2 groups and they rotate out. I think it’s great – they truly want as many people as possible to have this experience!
Today’s group was relatively easy to find. We only walked for about 30 minutes or so and there they were, playing on a log without a care in the world.
This is Rukundo, one of the 2 adult females in the family, and her baby. Rukundo (means “loves people”) was born in January 1996 so she’s 24 years old. Her baby (they don’t give them names until the become juveniles) is almost 4.
No matter the species, kids will be kids!
This is one of the adult females. I may be mistaken, but it looks like maybe the Habinyanja family is about to expand again!
Finding just the right leaf…
Yes, that will do nicely!
I had this silly thought that we’d find the family and sit with them for an hour. Not so. Until they find the perfect spot to settle in for the day, they’re on the move. The trek in to find them was relatively easy, but chasing them for an hour, not so much so. It was all worth it when we laid our eyes on this beautiful silverback – meet Makara – the leader of the group.
It’s truly amazing how human they look at times!
Another shot of Mukara – this time with the green of the jungle reflecting off his shiny silver back.
It looks to me like he’s enjoying leading the humans on a trek through the jungle!
Ever vigilant, it’s the Silverback’s job to keep the family safe…
And just like that, our time was up. It was time to go and leave them to eat in peace.
The trackers (who went out ahead of us to locate the family) stay with the gorillas until they make their night nests. As you can see by the map at the beginning of this post, they can cover a pretty large area. By staying with them, it makes it much easier for the trackers to find them again the next morning.
I’ll leave you with one last photo of us hiking through the jungle – and this was the easy part – we were still on the trail!