- Scientific name: Gorilla
English common name: Gorillas
Nederlandse triviale naam: Gorilla's
The eastern species of gorilla (Gorilla beringei) consists of two subspecies, Gorilla beringei beringei (Mountain Gorilla) and Gorilla beringei graueri (Eastern Lowland Gorilla or Grauer's Gorilla). Gorilla beringei beringei is found in two isolated subpopulations, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, and the Virunga Volcanoes region of Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While there has been some debate as to whether Bwindi gorillas should be considered as a separate subspecies (Sarmiento et al. 1996, Stanford 2001, Grubb 2003), they are considered here as one subspecies following Caldecott and Miles (2005) and Groves (2006).
(source: The IUCN Red List for Threatened Species)
The photos of gorillas I took in the wild are in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Although there is still debate if the Bwindi population is a separate yet unnamed subspecies, for now I will consider the gorillas part of the Gorilla beringei beringei subspecies; the Mountain Gorilla. The gorilla group I've encountered was the Nkuringo group. Also good to know: photos of Mountain Gorillas can only be taken in the wild; they can't survive detention. There aren't known surviving Mountain Gorillas in zoos around the world. There are approximately 786 Mountain Gorillas remaining in the world with approximately half of them staying in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest plus the Mgahinga Gorilla Park within Uganda found in East Africa.
On September 11 2009 no Twin Towers, but Twin Gorillas. The Nkuringo group had young twins, which is a unique for gorillas. We had a permit for this group of 19 gorillas. Gorilla trekking is not something for the weak. The trackers went ahead of us. A heavy hike through the jungle; cutting your path with a machete, steep decents up to 70%. The name is Impenetrable Forest for a reason. Steep down the mountain, across a creek, steep up at the next hill, down again, next creek, steep up again there where there is no path. Just roots, thorny bushes and lianes. After almost 2 hours of hiking we were near the gorillas. An hour time together with the gorillas. Not a minute more.
The first we saw was sitting under a tree in the shades between the undergrowth. A 5 year old male. Completely at ease. I've taken photos sitting down with stretched legs with a gorilla at 2 meters from my feet. Then the silverback in the thickets. Actually, only saw his silver back. Another gorilla near him. A group of at least 4 gorillas decending from a tree. One of the twins was with them. And a few months old baby! Some more gorillas in a tree and 3 between the thickets. The other ones were mostly moving around really fast, so we could hardly catch up to take any photos. But the 3 were eating and de-fleaing, undisturbed by our presence (as it ought to be). We observed them for quite a while.
Time was up, so we had to go. Everybody packed their cameras in their bags and gave them to the local porters we hired - the hike is heavy enough without your backpack. We went off. The ranger who was in front, turned around on our previously cut trail. The wrong trail? A different route? No, he stepped backwards. A blackback of almost 11 years old - almost fully grown adult came walking down our trail in all tranquility. We all had to take to steps backwards, off the trail. The gorilla passed at 40 cm from my feet. A Blackback is quite large. Especially when you can smell him. Luckily I did not pack my camera in my back. I climb through the jungle with my camera; you never know what you encounter. At first I was flabbergasted, then I took my camera and made some photos. I had to lean backwards to get him full frame because he was so close. At the corner of the path up left he waited for the rest of our group to move out of his way. This was an awesome experience. A bonus to our Gorilla Trekking!
Our hike back was heavy, hot, very humid and steep. But it was worth all the mud and exhaustion. You really made an effort to see those gorillas. If you ever have the opportunity, go see the gorillas. You will support the local communities as well.