Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is old, complex, and biologically rich. It is also home to half the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
Bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo and located in the southwestern corner of Uganda, the forest is a haven for the critically endangered mountain gorilla and is one of only three places in the world where visitors can track them. The largest primates in the world, the gorillas can weigh up to 440 pounds and reach up to six feet when standing — the silverback’s chest growing as wide as five feet. The mountain gorillas’ fur is thicker and longer than that of other gorilla species and enables them to live in cooler mountain temperatures. Predominately herbivores, the mountain gorillas move quietly in family groups, with only the occasional crack of a breaking branch announcing their presence.
We set off in search of the habituated Bitukura family group, climbing through dense trees and vegetation as our guide cuts away the creepers and vines with his machete, clearing the way. Dappled light filters through the thick canopy of trees overhead, while underfoot are muddied brushwood, ferns, and slippery fungus. Our efforts are rewarded; we come across four females perched on a slope, eating. Soon the silverback and the rest of the group appear.
There are no adequate ways to truly describe the surreal sense of privilege and emotion that I was overcome with as we followed the gorillas into a clearing. To sit only a few meters away and watch the sweet, albeit awkward, interaction between a 10-month-old baby and the silverback, who gently scooped the baby onto his lap while the mother casually looked on, was eerily familiar.
After the precious hour in their company and as we began our retreat back to camp, I better understood Dian Fossey’s dedication to the gorillas’ protection, and I have nothing but respect for those who daily put their lives at risk for this vulnerable species.
Since the gorillas’ scientific discovery in 1902, the population of mountain gorillas has been on a steady decline. There are currently an estimated closely guarded 1,000 left in the world, and they can only survive in the wild. Many of the guides and porters are reformed poachers who now work to protect the vulnerable species. Gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.