Thursday, October 27, 2011


Back to Volcanoes NP for our second day - It was finally time to go gorilla trekking. We started each day at the park by meeting at park headquarters, where the visitors were divided into groups of 8, assigned a guide and gorilla family, and then we drove to the trailhead parking - which was the side of the road in a rural farming village. Here we met an additional guide - an armed soldier. We were told that he was there to scare some of the other animals in the park, like buffalo, if necessary. However, we never saw any other animals there, and were later told that the government didn't want to take any risks with the tourists, particularly the potential to meet armed rebels from the DRC. (The border of the Democratic Republic of Congo is just a few kilometers away, as is Uganda). We walked about a half hour to a rock wall, which serves as the national park barrier. This part of the walk is through farmland, all the way up to the park border without a transition or buffer zone. From there, the walk depends upon which family you are visiting. Some of the families had moved very close to the wall, but the Amahoro group, which we were visiting, was about 1-1/2 hours more away. It was drizzling on and off during our hike, with some up and down, but the main thing we remembered was the mud, which was often higher than our shoes. (yeah for staying at a hotel that includes free shoe cleaning!) The equatorial rain forest itself was beautiful, and we really enjoyed the hiking portion of it. It felt kind of like we were explorers, since the path was not much of a trail, and the lead guide was using a machete to clear the brush and make the trail as we walked. Eventually, we reached our gorilla group and the rain stopped. We were very thankful to be able to take out our cameras for pictures. The first gorilla we saw was the dominant Silverback (mature male) who was doing the jiggy-jiggy with a female (our guide taught us that term). We were told that we should stay 7 meters (~22 ft) from the gorillas, but the guides would often bring us closer, and then the gorillas themselves would also wander as they pleased.

Most of the time the gorillas were either eating or lying around.

This little one was playing just behind one of the silverbacks.

The hike itself was not very hard. There were some challenges but in general the hikes we choose to do on our own (back home) are usually tougher. We had been a little nervous about the difficulty particularly after hearing form others. An Italian couple who hiked with us said that their hike in Uganda the previous week was definitely harder, and most of the people who had told us about it being difficult actually went in Uganda. Maybe its the location, but we would prefer to believe that we are just very fit instead. //. Betsy had briefly worked at the Indianapolis Zoo while in vet school and met Dr Jan Ramer there. Jan is now working at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project which serves the populations in Rwanda, Uganda and the D. R. Congo. Jan gave us a tour of the facilities, explained their work and shared with us so much information about the gorillas and the work that MGVP does, which also includes helping with the health of the gorilla trackers and guides. Unfortunately, gorilla poaching still occurs, and within the last couple of months, government authorities in Rwanda twice recovered baby gorillas. The MGVP helps take care of them until they can be turned over to other facilities. Jan took us to a shelter that was temporarily housing one of the baby orphans.

We can't remember her age (maybe 1 year?), but we were told that gorillas generally nurse until 3 years, and they were feeding her human baby formula. They limit contact with the gorilla so we were not allowed inside the shelter. Therefore, we had to stand on Jan's car to be able to see inside.

We are big fans of the MGVP and so if you want to learn more, check out // Our third and final day at Volcanoes National park and we visited the Susa gorilla family. This is the largest gorilla family, of about 33 individuals and getting to see them is considered the hardest trek. It was certainly a good hike, but only a little harder than the previous day, steeper and maybe 2-1/2 hours in, but with significantly less mud. This group was a bit more active. Two male youths, who were twins, were chasing each other, wrestling and biting, and would often run near us, twice even hitting Hugh while running past.

This mother may look fierce, but she is actually yawning.

This family had 3 silverbacks- the dominant one was sleeping, and this one was walking around.

And yes, we were really there; these aren't someone else's photos.

Don't you just love the hats! - Hugh & Betsy

Location:Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

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