I’m going to make my first post about wildlife travel locations the place to which my wife took me on my surprise 40th birthday trip. Though I obviously had to know that we were going somewhere, my wife managed to keep me from knowing the destination until the plane took off. Flying through London helped as Virgin to London does not necessarily give much away. Further, she managed to get the woman at the check in counter to check us in without mentioning the destination.
Anyway, the important point is that she took me to the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda to go trekking to see the mountain gorillas. She scheduled 5 days of gorilla trekking. This is considered moderately insane and quite unusual. However, if you are interested in a trip that really allows you to watch behavior, it is a good idea to pack in as many days of gorilla trekking as you can afford.
The first sighting of mountain gorillas is literally breathtaking. They are at once, so peaceful and so powerful. And, the first time you get to look into their eyes, you get a vision of the ideal of what humans like to believe we are, intelligent, thoughtful, loving, and non-violent. Seeing the two year olds and younger makes one instantly think of human children. The play and behavior is nearly identical, with the biggest exception being that they are quiet.
Females are about my weight at 160 pounds, but due to posture usually do not appear to be above waist high. Males are truly impressive at over 400 pounds, the largest gorilla species and largest of any primate. They have air pockets in their chest that produce a poc poc poc sound when they beat their chests, which is rare. Mostly, these beautiful animals live in their salad bowl clearings of herbaceous vegetation, eating and playing the day away.
In addition, in the same location, we had 2 days of trekking to see the then recently habituated golden monkeys. These are quite interesting monkeys in the guenon family, but uncharacteristically for this group led by the matriarch of the troop. Being led by the females allows them to form larger troops of 100 or so individuals. Their coats are incredibly beautiful. Their behavior is pretty typical monkey behavior, except for the large troop size.
Prior to getting to the Virungas though, my wife found us a location that was at the time and may still be, the largest montaine forest preserve in all of Africa, the Nyungwe forest. There are 13 species of primate in the forest. We saw 7 of them, counting a very brief view of a chimp that was not habituated and was therefore terrified of us and fled quickly, leaving us to feel terrible about disturbing her.
Outside of the parks in Rwanda, there is little to do, either wildlife viewing or for more human entertainment. This is by far the poorest country I have been to. They are extremely densely populated, by farming standards. Outside the park is total human devastation, i.e. farmland overrun with people. On the roads, there are few vehicles and many pedestrians. Bicycles are used for freight. Many people are pushing or peddling 40 pound bikes with 250 pounds of potatoes on them. Most push the bikes uphill and coast downhill. A few peddle uphill. I wonder how they’d do in Tour de France.
Anyway, though not for the faint of heart, or those scared off by state department warnings based on incidents from a thousand miles away in another country, I would highly recommend that those with a real passion for wildlife get there if they can. Feel free to ask me for details remembering that I did not take part in the planning of this trip.
Here are some photos from the trip. This first is a view of an entire group living in their salad bowl. They tend to stay in open clearings of herbaceous vegetation. They eat most of what’s there. We were extremely fortunate to see gorillas in the mist without the mist. It was sunny for all five days.
Gorilla head shot.
This is Puck and her baby. She is one of the early gorillas named by Dian Fossey. She was around 39 at the time of this photo and is with a new baby. We need more mountain gorillas like Puck.
Daddy, play with me. This is a two year old beating on Dad’s back, hence the blur on the right hand.
I was incredibly fortunate to get to see these two mountain gorillas mating on my birthday. We saw this just as we came up to the group. They were fairly close and my camera was not yet ready. I had to race to get the camera.
This last photo is a pair of golden monkeys in one of two troops that had been recently habituated.