Guhondo is the heaviest gorilla ever weighed (of any type) at 440 lbs and Fran and I spent an hour with him in the jungle today, along with his family We took an early morning ride to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park to trek into the bamboo jungle to see these endangered animals. There were only 7 of us and we hiked across rich farmland with rows of potatoes, wheat, tea, and pyrethrum flowers to reach the jungle. We were accompanied by a guide and a tracker with a rifle, not to protect us from the gorillas, but to protect us from Cape Buffalo who could be tracking us and are very dangerous.
We were hiking at a brisk pace through thick green vegetation and the guide said to hurry because the gorillas were headed into the crater. Suddenly we were hiking down a steep hill into the crater grabbing onto bamboo and then steeply up again when we caught a glimpse of our first gorilla, This group is habituated, meaning they are used to humans, and the tracker makes gorilla noises occasionally to show that we are friendly.
We got lots of photos and video of Guhondo,plus a small baby playing and feeding , a gorilla plucking a piece of fruit and eating it, and several of them bounding up bamboo or climbing into their gorilla nest. Their attitude toward us was like we were the family come to visit and they just went about their normal activities including falling asleep right in front of us or walking toward us. We were only allowed to spend an hour with them so as not to put too much stress on them. At the end of the visit, the clicking of cameras stopped and we were all silent just watching them watching us and marveling at being able to look into their eyes and observing every detail of their behavior.
These gorillas are Rwanda’s most renewable resource, bringing in tourism, and creating employment in the area. In addition, the money paid to see them goes toward a group of armed guards who stay near these gorillas all day to protect them from poaching. One of the female gorillas who came from another group had lost a hand, probably from a snare. We were happy that our dollars would go to preserve these magnificent creatures and help the local economy.
It was a once in a lifetime experience that neither Fran or I will ever forget!