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    Gorillas in our Midst

    December 18th, 2006 by steve

    There’s something like 400 mountain gorillas left in the world and they all live in the mountains at the intersection of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. The family of 36 gorillas we visited live in Rwanda’s Parc National du Volcans. To our surprise, the trailhead for our hike started in a maize field with our guide and a couple AK47-toting soldiers (two days later, we heard about a couple who went tracking on the Congo side of the mountains and were robbed by a band of guerillas.) Fifty feet into the maize field, we passed a stone wall and found ourselves suddenly in a thick bamboo jungle that wasn’t even visible five minutes prior. We hiked through the jungle for an hour or so until we caught up with the trackers who had caught up to the gorillas. Our next steps were into a clearing with four foot tall grass and stinging nettle. But no gorillas. Then suddenly we saw a path of grass in the distance being cut down in our direction. Before we knew it, the head of a big gorilla was visible above the brush and heading right at us. He came within 10 feet of us before stopping for photos and then continuing on through us. At one point, only the width of our tracker separated me from this giant silverback. As if to express his disinterest in us, the silverback raised his right hand and gently pushed the tracker out of the way so he could continue on to the good bamboo behind us – just like you’d put your hand on someone’s shoulder as you move through a crowded shopping mall. Imagine a 400 pound beast “gently” moving you out of the way.

    The range of human behavior they displayed was absolutely amazing. We met the #2 silverback in the troop, who sat calmly and watched us suspiciously. The two year old twins snarled at each other and tumbled around awkwardly like children. We passed a mother holding her four month old infant that could have passed for any human mother and child. Most fun were a pair of male youths who chased each other and wrestled the entire time. It was just like watching any adolescent brothers you’ve ever met (Nelson, Filipe.) Finally we came across the dominant silverback in the group. And it was just what you’d expect. He sat in his grassy lounge chair and didn’t do a thing but eat and scratch himself. He could have passed for Al Bundy sitting in front of a TV.For me, there were two aspects of the visit that really caught me off guard. The first was their humanity and the consciousness you could see in their eyes. The second was the gentleness they exhibited. Any one of these creatures could have easily crushed us at whim, yet I don’t think any of us felt threatened or even afraid at any point during the visit.

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    One Response

    1. mary Says:

      I so badly wanted to reach out and pet him when he was only 3 feet away but the tracker put himself in between and started grunting in a deep baritone to keep the silverback away. We spent an hour with the Susa group and it was truly amazing, just like Destination HD on the Discovery channel, but better.
      A number of times various gorillas would walk towards us, including one of the babies, but the guides would physically pull us back when they got within 6 feet. They said it was to protect us, but I think it’s more for the gorillas’ safety. One sneeze and we could wipe them out.

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