A personal account of these breathtaking creatures in the forests of Uganda.
Personal Travel Manager Kathy Millett guides us through her recent experience of getting up close and personal with the gorillas of Uganda:
A watery dawn rises over the misty Bwindi forest in Uganda – known as an impenetrable forest on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa.
We are gearing up to trek up the mountain in front of us and have been divided into three groups of eight walkers. The head ranger has given us the general outline of the day’s trek, along with a short summary on the history of conservation, plans and hopes for this area and these often hunted and protected primates.
There is only one trek a day and permits have to be secured in advance as numbers are kept to a minimum. While the gorilla numbers are slowly increasing in these forests of Central Africa, numbers are only sitting at approximately 650 and the eternal conflict of humans versus wildlife is ongoing.
Three groups of gorillas in this area have been ‘desensitised’ while the remaining groups are off limits to human contact or any type of interaction for their own protection.
The trackers leave at first light to find the ‘beds’ where the gorilla groups slept the previous night. Once these have been located we set off with our armed guards, guide and porters. Attired in suitable clothing, including gaiters around our ankles, long sleeved shirts, with walking sticks and gloves as protection against the stinking nettles, we fall into line behind our quiet, wise and infinitely knowledgeable local guide.
While nothing is guaranteed, this is the best possible way of spotting gorillas in a safe and controlled exercise. We are led through rugged terrain – it had rained the previous night and this awe-inspiring jungle was wet and slippery. Trekking can take between 30-minutes and 5-6 hours depending on the location of the gorilla group you have been assigned to track down. We spotted the enormous silverback of our Mubare group after about 1.5 hours – named Kanyonyi, he had been in a vicious fight with a rival male about 10 days before our trek. The local vets are trekking with us, as they needed to check on his wounds, and we got to see first hand the wounds that can be caused by their sheer size and power.
Once the gorillas have been located, we had one precious hour to sit amongst them, listen to them ‘talk’ to one another, watch the youngster play, marvel at the size of them, the delicacy of their movements and look into eternity in their gentle brown eyes.
It is a truly extraordinary experience to be allowed to sit in a dense rainforest so close to these remarkable animals, knowing that they are endangered and you have been privileged to share these short but life changing moments with them.
Best time to Gorilla Trek: during the short dry season from mid-December to early February, or over the long dry season months of June to September.
Cost of Gorilla Permit in Uganda: US$600 per person (US$1500 in Rwanda).
Cost of Porter (highly recommended): min. US$20 + gratuity at the end which they well deserve.
Her position as Personal Travel Manager alongside 20+ years of industry experience holds Perth local Kathy Millett in high demand. Specialising in Africa and India, her ability to put together bespoke, individual itineraries has resulted in numerous Australian Travel Awards.