The mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo are some of our closest cousins. Only about 2% of our genetic code is different than that of our peaceful, folivore relatives. I was fortunate to spend some time on the slopes of Mount Sabinyo, inside Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, the home of some of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas. Here are some photos from that adventure. As always, wide format prints of all mountain gorilla photos below can be ordered. Simply click on any image to be redirected or visit the Rwanda gallery.
Just like their human counterparts, young mountain gorillas have an insatiable curiosity. Often, they will approach human visitors and interact with them. Rangers will try to prevent this as gorillas are vulnerable to human parainfluenza, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial viruses; all of which can cause respiratory ailments, infections and even death in the endangered primates.
This adult female gorilla sat behind bamboo branches for a few minutes while occasionally and quietly observing what I was doing. I think she picked up a few photography tips in the process.
Guhonda the silverback. The alpha male, the big boss and also the largest mountain gorilla in the world. I lost count of the number of times this magnificent and powerful gorilla jumped around noisily, breaking many bamboo trees in a display of raw male power and territorial ownership. I was told by the rangers who accompanied me into the jungle that Guhonda was just showing off. A new female companion had recently joined his group and he needed to assert his status as leader. Gorillas are generally passive and will not harm humans, unless young ones or themselves feel threatened.
This female gorilla ambling through a clearing came really close to me. François Bigirimana – a park warden with tremendous experience and encyclopedic knowledge about gorillas – gently prevented me from getting too close. François' case is unique. His close association with Dian Fossey, the famous zoologist and conservationist and his living within a group of gorillas for an entire year have contributed to habituating gorillas to human presence. Besides the usual greeting grunts announcing our presence, François seemed to use a particular language to communicate with the apes. I can understand why: he's been in close contact with gorillas for several decades. He knows them and they know him. Another ranger confirmed François' amazing inter-species communication skills.
The eye of a female mountain gorilla sitting in a lush clearing appears as a red spot in the sea of greenery. Writing this reminds me of the story of Josephine, a lowland gorilla who regained eyesight after a ground-breaking surgical procedure. You can see a short video about this here. With just over seven hundred individuals left, mountain gorillas are in great danger. One that is made even more present with poaching and human encroachment on their habitat. I was surprised to see how close farming land was to the entrance of the Volcanoes National Park, but also relieved by what appears to be great determination by Rwanda's Tourism Board and all the parties involved, to ensure mountain gorillas have a future. This is clear in Rwanda but maybe less so in the neighboring Democratic republic of Congo. See why here and also here.
Guhonda, expert at extracting every bit of food from a piece of bamboo.
This female gorilla prefers the young and juicy bamboo shoots which grow so rapidly throughout the dense vegetation of the Volcanoes National Park.
Guhonda, unaware of my presence, continues to look for the tender pieces inside a large piece of bamboo. Bon appetit!