There is a place high on the slopes of a great escarpment in south western Uganda. It is a place renowned for its altitude and the impenetrable nature of its cloud forests. The mesmerizing diversity of bird and mammal life found within is quite simply astonishing. The densely forested slopes and valleys are surrounded by tea plantations and rural humanity. It is magnificent in an ethereal sort of way…mysterious…secretive. The area is known as Bwindi and it is home to the earth’s largest primate…the Mountain Gorilla.
Gorilla tracking here starts at first light when Park and Wildlife Services tracking teams head off into the different sections of the rainforest to seek the various family groups.
Safari clients gather with their guides at Park Headquarters later in the morning to be assigned their team leaders and their areas. A local group of performers dance a variety of ethnic celebrations before the inevitable departure. Some groups walk directly from HQ and others drive in safari vehicles to their starting points.
There is something magical about stepping into a rainforest from plantation land outside…like passing through a veil into another existence. The gloom is unusual and so are the noises and the smells. Cocktail ants crawl everywhere across the leaf litter on the forest floor and along the bases of the towering buttressed trees. Huge Black and White Casqued Hornbills hoot and trumpet from the canopy and…in the distance…a brief, rapid, hollow drumming…as the resident Silverback beats his impossible, barrel chest and announces his almighty dominance to the universe.
The slippery descent to the valley floor and the exhausting clambering up additional slopes blend eventually into a miasma of heat, humidity and breathlessness…until…suddenly…they are there. All discomfort evaporates as sixteen Mountain Gorillas open a window on to their world. The observer is spellbound…transfixed by the sheer primeval magnificence of it all.
It is akin to being catapulted back to the dawn of everything…to a time when our earliest hominid ancestors strode the earth.