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.
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.