The Great Ugandan Gorilla Safari
I recently had the good fortune of traveling to a destination less frequented by international travelers. Once described by Sir Winston Churchill as the “Pearl of Africa,” Uganda is in my opinion one of Africa’s best kept secrets. This is a country of spectacular mountains, lush rainforests, sparkling rivers and lakes, not to mention a multitude of ancient cultures.
In addition to a host of mammal species including endemic species such as Uganda kob and the giant forest hog, Uganda is blessed with an abundance of primates ranging from the small black and white colobus monkey to the highly endangered mountain gorilla.
With a little over 1000 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild, it was naturally a great privilege to be afforded the opportunity to trek into their domain and spend precious time at close quarters observing these magnificent creatures as they went about their daily lives, foraging for food and socially interacting with each other, all the while being quite oblivious to our presence.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest stretches some 210 square miles across rugged mountainous terrain, and being a rain forest, the weather constantly changes with torrential rains one minute followed by bright blue skies and glorious sunshine the next. So trekking can be challenging at times but ultimately richly rewarding.
Accompanied by a guide and trackers our trek commenced and had us meandering for a couple of hours along foot paths through local villages located in beautiful mountain surroundings before finally reaching the forest. From there our pace was slowed as we navigated our way through dense undergrowth on the trail of the gorillas.
We had been assigned to one of the relatively few habituated family groups in the forest, and when finally approaching them we were ecstatic to be informed by our tracker who had been moving slightly ahead of us that two family groups had just joined up. This meant that instead of only 10 gorillas we suddenly found ourselves in the midst of no less than 30 of these gentle giants ranging from tiny babies to not one, but two immensely impressive dominant silverback males.
A highlight of our encounter however was when two large black back males began sparring in a playful rough and tumble fight. Before attacking each other they would stand tall and beat their chests, until the sounds reverberated through the forest. At one point they were no more than a mere 6 or 7 feet from us and I must admit that for a brief moment I questioned my reason for being there. Naturally my trepidation quickly faded and all too soon I was once again mesmerized.
Reflecting on the trip after my return, it became apparent to me that being immersed in such a pristine environment is both a humbling and awe inspiring experience which fulfills the inner desire that most of us have to get closer to nature. This connection with the earth allows one’s senses to be reawakened and rejuvenated, and in doing so has provided me with a truly life enriching experience.
Note: Julian Harrison who was born and raised in Africa is the owner of Premier Tours, a company specializing in travel to Africa. Harrison has spent time working as a guide, and is also the author of “African Safari” a travel guide published by Fodor’s Travel Guides.
He has arranged safaris for the likes of actors Paul Newman, Ashley Judd, Marissa Tomei and Jessica Chastain. He frequently travels back to the continent and loves to spend time at his safari camp (Hwange Bush Camp) in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.