After three hours of trekking through the wet and slippery undergrowth we take a breath, “we are close” the ranger whispers and motions for us to place our walking poles on the ground. We had been instructed to do this back at the base, the sticks reminding the gorillas of the poachers and hunters who used to roam the dense forest in search of trophies.
Quietly we placed our sticks on the ground, feeling suddenly vulnerable after relying on them so heavily during our climb. The ranger motions to us to follow him and silently we do, sliding our cameras from our pockets where we had been so carefully protecting them from the torrential rain we had experienced earlier and now, the oppressive humidity.
We tread on the sodden ground, careful now not to snap any twigs or to make too great a sound. Brushing past the last damp bush, mindful of the thorns, we all stop in our tracks. There sat one of the twelve creatures we had battled through the rainforest to reach. She sits in the tree, so close that we can see the moisture clinging to her dark hair, observing us between mouthfuls of lush green leaves. Unlike the gazelle and wildebeest we had seen in the Masai Mara just days earlier, she observes us with fascination, not fear.
Venturing only slightly deeper in to the forest we meet more members of the gorilla family. On a soft bed of leaves lies the great silverback, his front turned away from us giving us prime view of his shimmering coat. Next to him, hidden away we see a bundle of dark fur, obscured by bushes. Whispering between us, we know there is a baby there, protected from the elements and sheltered from the humans. Collectively, we all hold our breath, our cameras focused on the silverback and the space next to him, wishing with all our might that the mound moves.
Many of the other members of the our Tucan Travel group had hoped to see a silverback during the hour with the gorillas and with three in this particular gorilla family, the ranger had informed us that this was guaranteed. What he hadn’t told us about was the newest arrival to the family, a six month old baby, curious and inquisitive, but tiny and delicate. I had hoped to see a baby during my gorilla trek being far more interested in them than the grumpy patriarch. I knew sightings of babies were not guaranteed and if anything, quite rare so I never imagined I would see one still so young.
It was with delight that we watched the baby’s mother shift position, allowing the small creature to clamber on top of her to take a look at us. Its tiny eyes peered out in curiosity, moving from each of us in interest. Its small hands, gripped the hairs on his mother’s shoulder. Alert, he would turn to gaze through the bushes at every sound made and seemed like he was looking for someone to play with, although not quite big enough to do so.
The gorillas’ humanlike qualities were immediately noticeable but we were all struck by the reactions of the female gorillas when the youngster took a fall, falling off the sturdy perch they had created. In unison, two gorillas rushed to the rescue, hauling the baby into their arms and patting him on the back. It was as if a toddler had taken a tumble in the playground.
The hour that we spent with the gorillas flew by, feeling like minutes as we observed the creatures pave their way through the jungle, following in their footsteps. Any exhaustion experienced by the trying trek vanished and we marvelled at the privilege of being surrounded by some of the most endangered animals on the planet.
Later, with beers and wine in hand, we shared stories and photos, watched videos and reminisced. All to the crackle and hiss of the campfire in the background.
Jess travelled with Tucan Travel on their Gorillas and Game Overland Tour.
About the Author: Jess is Communications Coordinator for Tucan Travel. She has travelled independently and on group tours through Central America, Africa, North America, Israel and Europe. You can find her on Google+ or read her other contributions here.