Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, besides having probably the coolest name of all the parks we’ve visited (although Skeleton Coast National Park was also up there), is known for one main reason: it’s one of three places in the world where you can visit gorillas in their natural environment.

(The other places are also nearby… Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and the adjoining Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, although there is some suggestion that the gorillas in Bwindi are actually a different species from the others.)

Bwindi Impenetrable

This is the view into the park from the path down to the boundary… you can see why it’s called impenetrable. The gorillas we visited were about half way up the hill on the right of the frame.  What you can’t see is the super steep gully between us and the hill!

Unlike their slightly smaller relatives, lowland gorillas, we were told that mountain gorillas have never survived in captivity, so you can’t see them in zoos. Instead, you have to trek into the forest, with a guide and two armed rangers for protection, following directions from a team of two trackers who try to locate the gorillas by following the path from where they left them the previous evening.

All this means that the experience can be very different even from one day to the next, and the trek can vary from less than an hour’s walk to more than five hours’ each way.  The impenetrable nature of the forest (steep terrain, dense forest, and no tracks) can make it reasonably hard going.

We were relatively lucky as the day we did it the walk there was slightly more than two hours, and it was a pretty special moment meeting up with the trackers and getting our first glimpse of a gorilla through the bush.

Us looking at silverback

You can just see the silver back against the black hair of the sleeping gorilla

The group we visited was the Bushaho family, which is made up of one silverback male, around seven females, and a several-month-old baby.

Mum and baby

The mother here is chewing bark from the tree, which is apparently good for gorillas’ immune systems. Probably not so good for their teeth!

Baby

Baby and silverback

Although the silverback was resting when we first arrived, he got up a bit later in our visit and periodically looked over in our direction, perhaps to make sure we were keeping our distance.

Silverback whole

Silverback close up

Silverback other view

The groups of gorillas that tourists visit have undergone a habituation process so that they lose their innate fear of humans. Although the gorillas sometimes choose to close the gap, the rules are for humans to stay at least 8 meters away.

Since the gorillas are so genetically similar to us, they are also susceptible to many human illnesses, and visitors who feel unwell are not allowed to visit them.  The visits are also limited to one hour to ensure the gorillas are not overwhelmed or excessively influenced by the presence of tourists.

All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and one of the highlights of our trip.  The cost is pretty substantial (although less than half the price of doing it Rwanda), but it was also good to know that a significant part of the revenue goes toward both conservation efforts for the gorillas, and development projects in the local communities.

Here are a few bonus pictures from the gorilla trekking and elsewhere in Uganda:

Favourite wife

This is the silverback’s favourite wife, according to our guide. She gets the special privilege of eating from the same tree as him.

Equator sign

Here is us crossing over into the northern hemisphere, just north of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda.

Bonus chameleon

Bonus chameleon

Grey crowned crane

Bonus grey crowned crane

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