Mountain Gorillas in the Jungles of Rwanda, Africa

February 15th, 2015

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With barely a sound the 160 kilo/ 350 pound gorilla walked right in front of me on the jungle hill side. Mountain gorillas only exist in high terrains of south western Uganda and neighboring Congo and Rwanda. For some, having the opportunity to hike to a family of mountain gorillas is the trip of a life time. I was pinching myself that here I was standing next to more than a dozen gorillas in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Africa.

gorilla head

Mountain gorillas were hunted almost to extinction and are a critically endangered species. Within Volcanoes National Park there are eighteen different groups of gorillas.

baby eating celery

Eight are observed solely by researchers and ten of the groups are the groups visitors are allowed to be guided to. We were assigned to be led by our guide Eugene to the Umubano group which had thirteen members.

baby eyes

Gorillas are considered babies from ages zero to three, juvenile from ages three to six, adult ages six to eight and after age eight females are mature enough to start reproducing. Gestation period is for nine months and female gorillas will usually have about six babies in their lifetime.

silver back

Around age twelve the black back of a male mountain gorilla will turn silver, giving them the revered title as now being a silver back.

hand gripping

For diet, gorillas are vegetarian consuming around 2000 different species of plants. An adult will eat about 30 kilos of vegetation a day and they get all their water needs from the plants they eat. Gorillas make a new nest for themselves to sleep in every day, usually on the ground and will start constructing it around 5 pm or so.

side profile

With their immense strength, visitors are often nervous to be in the jungle with these wild animals. Rest assured, the gorillas usually want nothing to do with you. They are too preoccupied with feeding, socializing and taking care of their babies. You are with guides, guards and trackers the entire time who are familiar with all of the gorillas. As long as you do what you guide tells you to do and do not use flash, (which applies for almost all wildlife photography in Africa) you will have an amazing time.

momma eyes

I couldn’t imagine having gone to Africa without having had the experience observing mountain gorillas. Looking at the faces and reactions of people when they come back from sharing the space with these gentle giants, they are impacted. Viewing wild gorillas changes you. Eugene, our guide thanked us all for coming and  told us how much our park fees are instrumental in helping the gorilla population increase. The park can pay for gorilla doctors and if an animal does get sick, usually the medicine cost a minimum of $1000.

chin up

If you want to help conserve mountain gorillas – go see them for yourself. In Rwanda it appeared that the park fees were being put to good use as poaching was down and gorilla numbers have increased from 500 to 900.

baby going for ride

With these fees the park can continue employing rangers who patrol and monitor for poachers. Among our group, some people had chosen to hire a porter (someone who will carry your bag) for the day. Eugene did not say whom specifically, but some of the porters who were hired used to be poachers in the park. Now instead of killing gorillas, they were earning an income from tourists coming to see the gorillas in a safe environment. Learning that around us were would be poachers that were now accepted and welcomed as porters, really drove home to me how impactful responsible tourism combined with effective leadership and park management can be. Seeing how the park was being run gave me hope that the mountain gorillas may have a chance to keep striving in these jungle hillsides.

mom w baby

The opportunity to view gorillas in their home was a fairytale-like adventure. Hopefully the conservation effort will continue to move forward in such a way that gorillas never become animals the next generation can only read about in a fairy tale book, but hike to for themselves and view these animals striving in their home as the magnificent creatures they are.

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For more information:

 Volcanoes National Park

We stayed at a church mission called Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima. It was very nice, clean and well located.

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14 responses to “Mountain Gorillas in the Jungles of Rwanda, Africa

  1. Wow! A fantastic post! It is wonderful to read and very well illustrated! It is extra nice to hear the positive news of the management of the park and the small population upswing of these endangered animals. Thank you!

    1. Thanks! We were so thankful to be able to have this experience. Not to mention the great weather and photo opportunities we had. It was one of the most memorable animal encounters we have had.

  2. Hi Tiffany,

    Inspired!

    This is one of my dreams. We are so stoked to see mountain gorillas in the wilds of Rwanda. Your experience of seeing them move right in front of you must have been one of the thrills of your life. So amazing, so inspired.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  3. Hey Ryan, I hope you get to go hike with the gorillas. It was so inspiring. They were just so casual as we shared their space. I was so happy to see the park so we managed and hopefully their successful population growth will only continue to increase. Cheers. 🙂

  4. Stunning pictures and interesting information about the gorillas. I can’t get over the ideal that they allowed you to get so close.
    It’s great that you are supporting the preservation efforts by going to this park. I hope more and more people are able to visit.

    GREAT JOB !

    1. The park service was actually very strict about how close you can get to the gorillas – 8 meters. That said, there were some points where the gorillas just crossed paths right in front of us. You definitely were not allowed to touch them and if you were really sick, you permit fee would be refunded so there was no chance of gorillas getting sick from a human. I was impressed with how well the park service handled and controlled the visitors.

  5. Wow. These animals really are amazing. Photographer Tiffany Soukup did a great job at capturing the inteligence and depth in the eyes of these wonderful animals.

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed. I was so mesmerized by their gentle and inquisitive eyes. It felt like we could have spent hours looking at each other and talking with our eyes.

  6. Thanks for sharing such great experience about mountain gorillas Africa. The photos a great, they give a clear image of the true African wilderness! This post is a complete guide to anyone interested in taking a gorilla tour in Rwanda.

  7. Thanks Paul! So glad you enjoyed. The gorilla trek was a remarkable experience and money well spent. It sounds like you have also some experience in Africa. I hope that anyone whom wishes will get the chance to experience how awesome being in the presence of these animals is and how important it is to safe guard their habitat.

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