Backstory: In the gorillas' midst
PARC NACIONAL DES VOLCANS, RWANDA
The first thing I thought when my boss asked me to go to Rwanda was: MOUNTAIN GORILLAS! Finally, a chance to see the amazing creatures Dian Fossey put on the animals-needing-to-be-rescued-from-certain-extinction map.Skip to next paragraph
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The gorilla population has stabilized at about 700, despite the turmoil in Rwanda, the Republic of Congo, and Uganda where they live. Five Rwandan gorilla groups are habituated to humans – who can visit in groups of eight for exactly one hour.
Trackers located our gorilla group and radioed its location to our guides. Our one-hour hike wasn't bad – only at the end did we bushwhack through the thick bamboo that mountain gorillas favor. We'd been briefed: no loud talking, stay close together, stay 10 yards from the gorillas.
And then we were with them.
The chief silverback, Agashya, charged us in a breathtaking bluff. Then he lay down and picked his feet, leaned back, and stared at the sky. Mountain gorillas are often seen brooding. Other than that, they eat a lot of bamboo. Or sleep.
At one point, we were surrounded by gorillas. Magic! We had to move back often because they sometimes came too close – especially the babies.
I tried to savor every minute – being so close to wild animals, so like us, who chose to stay near – but the hour passed much too quickly.