There is something so humbling, so peaceful, so mesmerizing about being in close proximity to these creatures that could exert unbeatable force against us if they wanted to, yet they seem to exude a nature, not unlike our own.
Visiting gorillas in the wild is to wind back the clock of human evolution; to look into the mirror, and magically see a 10 million-year-old version of you staring right back! They are 98% genetically identical to humans, after all. The gorillas are some of our closest relatives in the wild, and being in their presence is an honor.
Gorillas are the largest anthropoid (human-like) apes. Considerable differences exist between sexes. Females reach a maximum size of about 5 feet in height. They weigh from 155-240 pounds. Males reach just less than 6 feet in height and may weigh up to 440 pounds. Males of this imposing size are called silverback because of the distinguishing gray mantle they develop at maturity.
Gorillas live in family groups. These consist of a dominant of a dominant silverback male, his females with their dependent offspring, and juveniles of both sexes. Lowland gorilla that can be seen on Congo safaris groups tend to be small, whiles bands of mountain gorillas may number up to thirty animals. Such large groups may contain several fully mature silverbacks.
The gorillas have been habituated – a sensitively handled process which takes up to 2-4 years which means they are comfortable and at ease around humans. The tracking experience on various gorilla tours is an open door to seeing these primates in their natural habitat and the trek to reach them is wild enough itself; some of the flora is so dense, rangers have to cut it back with machetes. There are no footpaths or clear routes, just the rangers following their intuition as you scramble behind them.
Once you reach the gorillas, although you know it’s coming, it’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed by their presence. As you get closer you will notice some leaves rustling in the trees above and some breaking branches. And if you observe attentively, a flash of black fur. Those are Gorilla!
Rangers ask you to stash your bags and walking sticks and venture cautiously into the area where the trackers are waiting. Suddenly, the great primates begin to show themselves.
You will be watching as the gorillas tenderly picked leaves off the branches to eat, and then reach over to grab the trunk of a small tree and yank it right out of the ground like it was nothing to him. The mothers tend to their young, plucking bugs out of their hair, as the babies jump up for a piggyback and roll around in the grass.
Sometimes you may catch a glimpse of their eyes and they seem to stare straight into your soul; you will realize you aren’t that different, after all.
You will stay and watch the gorillas meander about the jungle for one hour before its time to head back up. You will wish to stay there forever, but instead you will forever hold this experience in your heart, memory, and probably in your social media feeds
Upon a successful gorilla trek in Uganda, you will be awarded a certificate to congratulate you for making it through the jungle and meet these unique creatures which is a way of supporting their conservation and the reason why they are no longer critically endangered but now just endangered due to the increasing number unlike before gorilla trekking was established.
And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling with joy of seeing these amazing creatures. As you drive or walk through the local communities, kids will keep on smiling and waving at you happily chanting Mzungu and you may hear some singing from the schools across the hills.
Such a special day shouldn’t miss on your bucket list as you plan your visit to Africa.