A 300lb male Silverback gorilla places one giant knuckle in front of the other and walks purposefully and directly towards me. My heart pauses.
He stops a yard away, looks me up and down before turning his back disdainfully and sitting down to continue feeding on the forest vines while I look on, exhilarated by this most intimate moment.
There are roughly 600 mountain gorillas left in the world with their populations split between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire, now known as DRC). Rwanda and Uganda are firmly established on the tourist trail, receiving many visitors each year. But for those who seek a more exclusive experience, Virunga National Park in Congo is their destination.
Our group of just two with a guide and several rangers set out from Bukima as the early morning mists were clearing from the overlooking volcanoes. From the camp we skirted the forest edge, walking through verdant farmland. Farmers tilling land sent smiled greetings in the region’s unique French and Swahili patois while an array of birds twirled above us. After an hour our guides led us though a gap in the park perimeter and into forest and we continued on.
You will never forget the first moment you stumble through a dimly lit glade and into the midst of a family of mountain gorillas bathed in sunshine. You will know it’s coming as the guides hush their voices, point out gorilla nests from the previous night and step through broken foliage. Maybe you will have seen them before on TV, maybe you will have read accounts like this, but nothing will prepare you for the look of knowing recognition in their eyes as yours meet.
As I sit here in my office, thinking back, I remember every last minute of a magical hour in the company of these beautiful giants and I urge you. Go. See it for yourself.
Inspired to see these remarkable animals in the wilderness? Join our Virunga expedition.
Watch this space for Mark’s thrilling account of his climb up the Nyiragonga volcano.
By Mark Boyd, Sala’s Camp Manager