Before heading up to Gulu, Beth and I are taking a little vacation to visit part of Uganda that I have never been to. Beth has wanted to do a gorilla trek since she found out about them a number of years ago, so we decided to go on one. In the southwestern corner of Uganda at the borders of Rwanda, the Congo, and Uganda are mountains where the only living mountain gorillas live. Naturalists estimate that there are only 700 of them remaining in the wild, about 400 in Uganda and the rest in Rwanda and the Congo. They live in families from approximately 8 to 20. Over the course of years, naturalists have habituated the gorillas to human beings. They are naturally afraid of humans, but because of the habituation process they view us as neutral animals.
The way the gorilla trek works is that trackers go into the woods around 7:00 am (gorillas make "nests" of leaves on the ground and sleep from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am) at the place they saw them the previous day.They then try to find where they have moved and when they find them they radio to the head guides their current locations. Those going on the trek are at a central meeting point gather at 8:00 am where we are briefed about mountain gorillas, the trek, and the do's and don'ts of the trek. Then we are divided into groups no larger than eight--there were only twelve this morning so we were two groups of six. (The maximum number of people allowed trek each day is forty.) We then head out tracking different gorilla groups.
The first person is an armed guard then the head guide, followed by the trekkers and porters (people to carry your back pack, etc.) and the last person is an armed guard. Both guards have a machete to cut vines and branches as you proceed. There are mountain elephants and leopards in the forest so the guards are there to protect us should one appear. They would shoot some warning shots to scare them away and only in the most rare circumstances would they actually shoot the animal. I haven't heard of that actually happening.
We ascended the mountain which must have been at a 45 degree angle. We started at around 6000 feet and I don't know how high we went, but we might have ascended 1000 feet or so. It was very slippery because it is the rainy season and it rains almost every day. You can go 1/2 hour and find gorillas or three hours and find them. We were fortunate and found the group we were looking for in 30 to 45 minutes. They were were all feeding on berries in this very tall tree on the slope of the mountain. This group had about 10--two silverbacks and two babies. After about an hour (the length of time permitted to observe them) they came down from the tree and started feeding on the ground. We carefully approached where they were eating and came within 10-20 feet of them. Below is a picture of the silverback leading the group and I took this picture with my iPhone at a distance of 10-15 feet. It was pretty cool!
The Rev. Dr. Phil Bauman has been the Senior Pastor of UCC Medfield since 1996. He served as the pastor of the First Congregational Church (UCC) in Clinton, MA from 1981-1988, then attended Boston University where he received a Ph.D. in Pastoral Psychology in 1995.
My old blog "Poetics of Faith"
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