Deep in the misty, rain-soaked mountains of Rwanda’s Volcano National Park live one third of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Protected with passion and vigour, these beautiful animals exist in a wild and untamed corner of their ancestral lands.
To see Rwanda’s gorillas is an adventure into the heart of the rainforest, where the rains patters on the leaves overhead and the paths are slick and muddy. Yet every step is worth it as you enter the realm of these magnificent distant relatives, your journey bringing you close to a myriad of birds and primates. Silent and still you will watch them in the natural world, their close-knit family ties evident and powerful.
Step into the Land of the Gorillas
The Virunga Mountains straddle the border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast volcano-strewn massif covering 8,000 square kilometres. Somewhere in its heart live just 12 habituated families of gorillas, their survival vital to the existence of this magnificent species on earth – listed as critically endangered, there are only 1,000 wild gorillas left on the planet.
Come Face to Face with Silverbacks
The path is slippery and in this vast wilderness the trek to see the gorillas can take as little as 30 minutes or as long as eight hours, depending on where they are. Yet every step is worth it. As you navigate the volcano’s slopes you make your way through a forest of hanging vines, of trilling bird song, giant lobelias and moss-covered trees. Other primates appear in this emerald world too, grey-cheeked mangabeys, golden monkeys, baboons and the world’s largest troop of colobus monkeys all add to the carnival of sounds.
Yet as you draw near, everything changes. Silence echoes through the forest as your experienced tracker stops suddenly, listening. You tiptoe closer until there, in front of your eyes, is the bulking frame of a 200-kilo silverback gorilla, so close you could reach out and touch him. He’ll know you’re there, and wise eyes will appraise his curious visitors with nonchalance. With just eight people allowed to visit any family for no more than an hour each day, it is imperative the animals don’t feel crowded or unsettled.
Discover a Touching Bond
Massive and majestic, mountain gorillas also have close family bonds, spending much of their day bonding, playing, resting and nurturing one another. The sight of a mother gorilla lovingly tending her tiny baby is one which evokes a deep resonance, our affinity to these intelligent, emotional animals extraordinary.
There are few wildlife experiences quite like an encounter with mountain gorillas. That precious hour spent in their company watching as they play, sulk, eat or doze just as we do, is simply captivating.