There’s not a flicker of feeling on his huge, broad face. His cheeks and forehead are covered virtually completely with hair, each strand thick, coarse and jet-black. His unblinking eyes, dark and moody, are aimed squarely in my instructions, with an unwavering intensity that causes my knees to wobble. Frightened, I look away sheepishly. A staring contest with a 200-kilogram silverback gorilla is not one that you’re most likely to win.
I’m deep in the jungle-swathed peaks of south-west Uganda, a location that is home to even more than 400 mountain gorillas– a dozen of which are sat just a few meters away, staring at us as we looking at them.
The junior members of the Rushegura family lighten the state of mind, somersaulting from the treetops and landing on the ground with heavy thuds. Mwirima, the silverback, the burly patriarch of the group, views with an expression shared by exasperated parents the world over. He crunches on thick sticks of bamboo and grunts loudly.
Monitoring wild mountain gorillas is rather the adrenalin rush. Every year, thousands of tourists come down on this small corner of central Africa in the hope of seeing these famous and critically threatened animals in their natural habitat. Of the approximated 880 that continue to be in the wild, half are found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, with the rest living in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
But unlike other African wildlife– most generally seen from the comfortable boundaries of a jeep– hanging out with these primates in their domain is a trip that needs to not be become part of too gently.
Continuously on the move trying to find fresh grazing, locating them requires strenuous trekking with damp jungle and, sometimes, along high mountain ridges to altitudes of 2,000 meters. Bulletproof by name, impenetrable by nature: hiking in Bwindi is a challenge.
“It’s tough, however seeing the gorillas is virtually ensured. I have actually identified them within 20 minutes of triggering, however it can in some cases take 5 hours or more,” says our guide Mathias, an hour into a sweaty hike. Up ahead, park rangers with rifles clear the disordered trail that’s spread with rainbow-colored butterflies and big snails with beautiful shells. I scan the treetops for chimpanzees.
In addition to the substantial physical investment, tracking gorillas likewise sustains substantial costs. Seeing these gentle giants does not come economical. Highly sought-after permits are needed and should be acquired beforehand. An optimum of 64 are released each day with each costing US$ 500 (Dh1,837): a fee that goes toward gorilla conservation, the upkeep of Uganda’s national parks and assisting the regional community.
While the expense of permits in Rwanda has actually just recently enhanced to an eye-watering $750 (Dh2,755), the Uganda Wildlife Authority has, for the first time, presented savings of $150 (Dh551) per permit for three picked months in 2014.
Protecting the gorillas is paramount. Groups are restricted to a maximum of eight individuals and time with the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour. But that’s not all. Long prior to any traveler can get close, each gorilla household goes through an intense, two-year period of habituation to ensure that they are comfy with human company and safe to be around.
“No traveler has actually ever been hurt by a gorilla,” states Mathias, reassuringly. “However they do often charge. It’s taken place to me. A silverback once stopped so near me that I might smell his breath.”.
The world has actually been intrigued by these enigmatic animals– which share 96 per cent of their DNA with us– given that a German army officer came across them in 1902 while out mountain climbing up.