On a flight from Dubai to Entebbe in Uganda, together with my companion Łukasz, sipping drinks, we enjoyed the prospect of adventure awaiting us. But something was troubling our heads. Well that day, ie. June 12th, Poland played their first game at the Euro Cup in France. So where the hell we can see the game?!
With the help or actually with the information, came beautiful Kenyan stewardess. As it turned out, on board, except us, was some Polish couple! Quickly we moved to the indicated place.
– Are you Polish? Unthinkingly I blurted out, not even assuming confusion regarding nationality.
– Yy.. Yes..
To the delight that even on a flight to Uganda can meet compatriots, quickly we found common language. Kasia and Kuba, living in Entebbe not only offered a bar to see the match (among natives: D) but their place to spend the night as well! Thanks a lot guys!
The next day, was waiting for us to drive 453 km, which took whoooole day, because of the condition of local infrastructure. But thanks to the enjoyment of first win of Polish National Team against Northern Ireland and the scenery flashing by the open windows of the car, the road passed surprisingly quick.
5.40 am wake-up call. Outside the tent, where we slept in the middle of the African jungle, is already dawning. Together with our guide we go to the gates of the National Park Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Head of the Park gives us and a few others travelers briefing.
– You can’t approach the gorillas at a distance of less than 7 meters. Because you can infect them with yours own potential diseases.
– When they will be closer, gently withdraw without making sudden movements. In the event that gorilla might starts to bug, guard will shoot a series of bullets into the air from his AK-47.
– And the last but not least: listen guide’s commands!
Finally we head off. Richness and liveliness of greenery is almost beating in the eyes and nostrils. The lungs seems overjoyed by absorbing so clean and untainted air. A brain begins to realize that it’s located in the heart of the African jungle, near the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. Names of lands so exotic and distant, that for many years moving traveler imagination.
We enjoy the march, though it’s not easy. We rip through bushes, sweeping by lying on the ground tree limbs. On clothes, faces and hair nature leaves souvenirs in the form of scratches. But it’s ok! We’re going for a meeting with the biggest monkeys belonging to the family of hominids – the very same to which people belong!
Rustling leaves, chirping birds, the voices of the jungle suddenly interrupted by the sound of walkie-talkie. Our guide gets information about the location of one of the groups of gorillas. We speed up, and I feel how the wave of excitement is overcoming me.
Guide suddenly stops, and we freeze. He points a finger in a scrub and there he’s! Mountain gorilla! And behind him other ones! Childhood dream starts to come true! Powerful, yet so delicate. Gorillas in fact, have nothing to do with the image presented in the film King Kong, and other fairy tales. They are usually friendly towards people and even shy. Aggression can be presented only when threatened will be young ones or any of the herd.
In the herd, numbering up to 30 individuals, there’s a strict hierarchy, where the head is silverback – an alpha male. It has priority to all females in a herd, which also compete for his attention. In the herd there are also potential rivals in the form of young males that haven’t yet got white hair on the back.
Meanwhile, I found a new object of observation. Immersed in the green, young male is feeding off the shoots after peeling them first. Gorillas to get food are able to use primitive tools. For example, using long poles to knock down high growing fruits. Smaller poles in turn, are used to pry the larvae.
But this isn’t the end of their abilities. These amazing creatures doesn’t like too strong sun. So they pick large leaves and cover with them their heads. But not the ability to use tools makes them so similar to humans, but the emotional states and the extensive system of communication. Was recorded up to 20 sounds denoting different transmissions between gorillas.
A few meters above something began to rustle. The sound becomes clearer and clearer, it seems that the young gorilla also heard it because he stopped eating. Suddenly, between us, at a distance of some two meters away from me rolled down gorilla cub :)
After this little show guide is letting me know that silverback was seen nearby. I’m going! Weighing about 200 kg male, measuring about 170 cm, with his massive shoulders, breaks branches to get food. I’m already among them about an hour and they’re still eating. How much they can eat?! Gorillas eat mostly greens, bark, shoots, and some larvae. So to fill their big stomachs they eat 5-6 hours a day.
Their behavior amazingly resemble humans. But no wonder they’re our closest cousins. We share with them about 97% of our genotype. I would even say that they’re half-animal half people.
Pity they live in such a troubled area of the world. There’re less than 900 gorillas, of which almost half live just in Uganda, and the rest in the National Park Virunga stretching from the Democratic Republic of Congo, torn by more than half a century by internal conflicts, and Rwanda, where not so long ago one tribe (Hutu) decided to, literally, cut off another tribe (Tutsi).
The biggest threats are poaching and reduction of habitat through deforestation. Which gives way to the field crops or rather plots, because passing through Uganda, you can get eye nystagmus because of number of squares and rectangles thoroughly covering all the plains and hills, where originally grown forest.
The forests are also a source of charcoal. So the forests are being cut there often and heavily. It also happens that doesn’t matter whether the forest has reserve status, or national park status. A striking was the situation when we passed next to Mburo National Park. Our guide and driver at the same time with proud announced that we’re passing one of the 10 national parks in Uganda. In response I nod in the proof of recognition. – And from where is this charcoal? I asked seeing a number of 10-kilo sacks exposed along the road for sale. – From the park. – He replied. Seeing in the mirror my face palm expression, he added, it’s cut by the President’s people, so they’re covered. – So it’s kind of a national park just on the paper… – I sum up.
However, there is little light in the tunnel. Since the beginning of the XXI century, thanks to the incredible efforts of environmentalists, NGOs and local communities, the population of mountain gorilla gently increases. I wish all of us that this trend continues and that more people could see these amazing creatures in their natural habitat. As only money from tourism can save these animals, giving earnings for local communities.
Ps. During the trip we also visited the chimps (the one above) in Kibale National Park, which similarity to humans also marvel (the same number of teeth, 5 fingers and toes, 95% of the same genotype) however the post I wanted to devote only for mountain gorillas, as meeting them left the greatest impression on me, which I will never forget for the rest of my life.
Check out mini documental video as well! :)