"I am going to teach you how to speak to the Gorilla's" our guide said to us. "You need to be able to respond to them, to talk to them. You need to let them know that you are not there to hurt them". He then went on to show us how to make the right sounds that will gently calm the Silverback and his family as we encroach into their world...."Oggghhh Oggghhh Oggghhh. Its the most important sound. It means we are friends...We are here peacfully... Its OK"
Rwanda is home to a large majority of the worlds 786 Mountain Gorillas that are left. 786. That number makes me so sad. Mad too. And disgusted. How have we let that happen? The devastating Rwandan Genocide in the early 90's had a huge part to play in the dwindling numbers but more than that, poaching still exists on this great continent. Why? And hunting? How is that a sport? What do people want with ivory, Elephant feet, Gorilla hands, Rhino horns? Do they really make good ashtrays, make you more virile or feel like a better person? Why do people really want to destroy a whole species? How can someone look a magnificent animal in they eye just as they pull the trigger in the name of 'sport' and not feel just a slight twinge of guilt? Of sorrow?
How can we make this stop? I dont know the answer but all I do know is that through my life, I will make choices that will enable me to do everything I can to help.
Our trip has allowed us to learn about so many conservational projects and top of our list was to experience Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitat. We specifically chose to do our tour with Absolute Africa as they are one of the only overland companies that travel from Nairobi to Cape Town via Ruhengeri in the Rwandan mountainous Parc des Volcans. Home to Dian Fossey who lived and studied these incredible beings for over 18 years. We were going to track the jungle to them and spend a precious hour in their company.
Walking for 1.5 hours through thick, dense jungle is quite an experience in itself and the walk to the spot where the Gorilla family we were going to meet saw us pass a troop of Golden Monkeys and some rather unusual looking jungle creatures. As we fought our way through the thorny thistles and ominous looking undergrowth, every now and again we would stop, adjust to the altitude and look on the hills below us. The lush, green rolling hills of Rwanda are nothing like you would expect and the views from high up the hills of the Par National des Volcans is incredible.
As the bush got thicker and our path disappeared into the undergrowth, our guide had to use a machete to cut our last stretch of the journey through the wild terrain and before we knew it we were in the humbling presence of a family of 11 Mountain Gorillas. The Silverback looked on us from a close distance while a mother and her new baby sat watching us sceptically before moving into the safety of the denser scrub.
We watched in fascination as two babies, toddlers at only a few months old, played in the trees completely oblivious to us! They would chase each other up the branches and then crawl gently along the bamboo like trees until they reached the weaker tops. When the trees could take their weight no more they would bend right down, dropping the babies to the ground.
All the while our guide would gently grunt to the mothers and the Silverback, letting them know that our presence was friendly "oggghhhh oggghhhh oggghhh". Stef, one of our friends on tour with us wanted to converse with the Gorillas herself and she too patiently grunted softly through our our stay. Right towards the end she was rewarded in the most amazing way when the Silverback eventually responded "oggghhh oggghhh oggghhh"! It was truly magical.
One memory I will take with my forever was watching those babies play. At one point a spindly tree had both of them hanging off and before long it bent right down and broke, crashing them gently to the ground in a mound of leaves and gorilla fur... right on top of the sleeping Silverback. We all held our breath, expecting an explosion and all he did was gently grunt to them "oggghhh oggghhh oggghhh". "Its all right" he was saying and you could almost hear the chuckle in his voice!