Our shirts clung to our backs and sweat rolled down our necks as we continued our ascent into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The road was steep and dry and although it was early morning the Ugandan sun was hot as it beat down on us with not a cloud in the sky. We stopped often to sip water and catch our breath, put to shame by the rangers who hike the mountain daily. We trekked on slowly, steadily, not knowing if we would carry on for another hour, or another seven.
The radio crackled and a voice came through in a language foreign to us just as we reached the forest edge. Our guide smiled as he turned to us, “The trackers have found the family”. The excitement spiked in our group of seven as we continued on, moving more quickly than before.
As we entered the forest we hardly noticed the cooler air the shade provided, thinking only of the goal. We stumbled over vines and through bush as the ranger at the front used his machete to cut a path leading us deep into the national park.
We all stopped in our tracks when a grunt seeped through the forest, letting us all know we didn’t have much farther to go. We hushed our voices and stayed close together with our guide and ranger at the front and another ranger behind us and creeped on, making as little noise as possible as we headed towards the area the noise had come from.
Another grunt. This time it was coming from the bush directly to our right. we took a step back and the ranger took a step forward. We clutched our cameras and held our breath as he cut down and pulled away the leafy foliage revealing the magnificent creature we had come to find. The mountain gorilla.
My hands shook, I was so fascinated I didn’t raise my camera for a photo, I just stared as the gorilla quickly turned and headed into the bush, away from peeping eyes. The adrenaline was rushing as we broke the silence, so excited with our first gorilla encounter. We didn’t pause though as we all knew that with our first sighting our clock was now ticking. We would have exactly one hour to find the rest of the family.
It wasn’t long before we had out next sighting. This time it was a juvenile perched at the top of a bush, chowing down on some fresh green leaves. We watched him for a couple minutes, using the opportunity to snap some photos before continuing our search.
Things just kept getting better. Not only one, but two silverbacks appeared, paying no attention to our presence before disappearing again. A mother and her four month old baby stayed at a distance but allowed us to get a little peek and a couple fuzzy photos of the youngest gorilla in Bwindi National Park. My heart skipped more than one beat when I was taking a photo of a female gorilla and a juvenile came rolling unexpectedly out of a nearby bush, straight over my toes and down the hill into more private cover.
We ducked and peered and climbed and squatted as we took every chance to get our eyes on these incredible animals. The Impenetrable Forest definitely earned its name as every step was a battle with mother nature but we were handsomely rewarded with what came next.
The forest opened up to a path that skirted around the mountain and as we stepped out onto it, so did the gorillas. We followed behind as the Bweza family wandered down the trail in no hurry at all. Some gorillas took no notice of us as they sat along the path to feed or scratch, giving us a better sighting than we could have imagined.
While in the middle of a gorilla selfie I heard movement behind me and jumped up in time to get out of the way of a passing silverback. He looked up at us and snorted as he passed, nearly stepping on our toes. I forgot to breathe for a moment. It was the perfect way to end out time with the endangered species. Our hour was over and we had to say goodbye and start our journey back down the mountain, a little sad to leave and a lot excited with the new memories we all gained on that hot day in Uganda.
**** ** ****
The mountain gorillas are an endangered species with less than 900 of the animals remaining. They are only found in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Virunga Volcanic Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The conservation efforts and funds from visitors to the gorillas has helped with the protection of the species bringing the population from 240 to 880 mountain gorillas in the last 50 years. The great work of the conservation team is giving confidence that the mountain gorillas will be sticking around for generations to come.
To help support to conservation of these friendly giants visit Friendagorilla.org