The tropical rain forests are mostly impenetrable. Due to high amounts of rainfall, there is thick undergrowth that springs up continuously. Indeed very few areas in the world can claim to receive rainfall daily yet that is the norm here. It is in this thick forest where we find man’s closest relative the gorilla.
— Clare Balding (@clarebalding) July 5, 2013
Heavily built, with biceps that rival those of world body building champions, a fully grown mountain gorilla has no natural enemy, except man. He does not fear anything, does not tolerate intrusion, and he is firmly in charge of the family unit. Gorillas live in closely knit family units led by one dominant male. He earns his place by dethroning the in charge in vicious territorial fights that can lead to death of either animal.
There are two types of gorillas, the mountain gorilla and the lowland gorilla. The mountain gorilla is huge, bigger and stronger than man with thick hairs that cover most of its body. Its habitat is the highland forests of the Congo, Western Uganda and portions of Rwanda. It detests human interference with its life and therefore has to be treated very cautiously. The plain gorilla is slightly smaller in size prefers the less forested areas in Congo and can often be seen in market areas in Congo and the DRC.
For a gorilla family to be included in the tracking circuit, it has to undergo a slow but deliberate process called habituation. Habituation involves gradual familiarization with man. People remain in the vicinity of a family unit, throughout the day, when they feed and only retire when they sleep as well. When the gorillas wake up in the morning, they find warders there ready to accompany them wherever they go. The process can take up to three years before a clearance can be given for tracking.
Tracking is following a gorilla family on foot through the thick undergrowth of the equatorial forest. It is such a popular tourist attraction that one needs to book sometimes up to eight months before the event. Before a clearance is given to a tracker, a doctor has to confirm that the person does not have any communicable disease. Tourists have been known to travel all the way from Canada and Europe, only to be denied to watch after catching a common cold. The hawk eyed vets do not compromise when it comes to the health of the animals, who share feelings, moods and diseases with man.
Only a maximum of eight individuals can be allowed to track a gorilla family at a time. The individuals are warned strongly against irritating the animals. The use of cameras with flashes is banned. Trackers have to be accompanied by at least two guides one of whom must be armed. An irritated male gorilla can kill a human being with a single slap.
Tropical rain forests have giant trees as well that grow up to eighty metres in height. They have barks which surround their base, slightly detaching from the trunk. When the gorilla wants to communicate with other families, mostly seeking to know their location in the forest, the male slaps the base of these trees, at the point where the bark is detached. This may happen about three or four times. The sound coming from that one slap can be heard eight kilometres away. This will give you an idea how strong these animals are.
Tracking is such an overwhelming experience. Apart from the animals, the walk in the forests is so refreshing that most tourists do not like leaving the forests once they embark on tracking. Despite the high charges imposed on the trackers, it costs about $600 a day, it is always house full with several groups waiting for their turn!