by Luke, in Uganda
14th December, 2009

What an amazing experience – I was about 10ft away from a huge male silverback gorilla and although we did our best to keep our distance in relation to the risk of disease spread – we didn’t have a lot of choice about it. One of the blackbacks (juvenile male – they become silverbacks around the age of 10-12yrs when they go through puberty and develop the badge of seniority of the silverback) came right up to us to check us out. The group seemed calm and didn’t mind our intrusion in the least – well accustomed to tourists popping up for an hour each day. It really was a special expedition and we all enjoyed it immensely. We’re all a bit beat – it was an uphill 10km hike through dense forest – but worth every step.
Dazzling facts about gorillas before I forget them: They live in stable polygamous groups lead by a dominant male called a silverback whose job is to protect them all from danger. The main dangers being man, leopards preying on the small ones and rival males trying to steal away the females. You can get more than one silverback in a group but it be his sons and they would only be there until they have enough confidence to branch out and try to establish their own family units. The females are attracted to powerful males, females born in a particular group will leave it about 8 years of age and go to another group – this helps genetic propagation of the species. They produce normally one offspring ever 3-4yrs, gestation is 8.5-9months, and they can live for up to 50years. The groups typically comprise 5-60 gorillas. What else – they have prominent bony ridges but the key reason for this is that it not only protects the eyes when going through dense foliage but it means the facial skin has a lot of flexibility and maximises their ability to perform a wide range of facial expressions – a bit like Nathan – allowing them to communicate with other family members. Silverbacks are about 180cm tall, weigh about 300kg and if they tried to take Adam’s camera you would pay tickets to see the result. Sadly, Adam might not keep his camera in that one. Infants are weaned about 4-5 years of age but move to their mothers backs from the bellies at 5months. Marc was a particularly attractive target for one baby who went right up to him and fixed him with a beady eye. I think it wanted to groom him but realized the challenge would be too great.
In a nutshell, gorillas are great – they are on the road to recovery (there are only 800 left in the world), but numbers are increasing mainly thanks to the tireless efforts of dedicated conservationists who are championing their cause. There is no denying it is a fragile process though. Ecotourism, despite the good it does, risks a viral epidemic amongst the habituated groups (based on today’s experience contact is a given despite the 7metre ruling), climate change is affecting rainfall and global warming the vegetation. Deforestation is destroying the habitats and we need to make every effort to preserve, protect and cherish the plant and the wonderful animals within.
On other news – washing has finally been done – took a few days to dry but great to have another change of clothes, Unfortunately for the man who brought me the washing, I was in the bath at the time (no showers – it’s a tented camp so sort of outdoor bath thing) and he decided that rather than come into the bathroom to collect his tip, he would high tail it out of there without witnessing a spectacle of me in the tub. Very wise. Nathan wants to go on a camera course, Marc is upset because we got messed around by one of the Ugandan vets who let us down at the last moment to show us a lab, and Adam is shattered after a hardcore day of filming in extreme situations – Simon (cameraman from Peru and Nepal) would be proud to have a companion on the pantheon of extreme cameramen. I am blissfully happy to have seen the gorillas – wish I could have taken Cords and Noah to see them, they would have loved it, (Noah would have been right up to the silverback like a shot and caused all sorts of chaos) but a good plan to come back in years to come and hopefully do it again.

Few relaxing drinks tonight to celebrate before out 10-12 drive tomorrow back to Kampala. Fingers crossed we can catch the stray dog with the USPCA that got away – I really want to get it fixed up. Rock on.

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