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Saturday, 01 February 2014

Bwindi Jungles' Gorillas

Written by Jake Graffy
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So it appears gorillas really are just hairy humans.


Trekking into Bwindi jungles ivy entwined heart, it feels for the first time I am exploring not only the motherland of planet earth, but the epicenter of all ancestry, that grows today as modestly as it ever did when we first swung our way out of the trees. Medires, our guide, machetes a route for us between the recalcitrant branches that block the way. Walking beneath the enclosing canopy, unaware and uninterested in a world beyond it, I sweat my way deeper into the jungle, walking on an air of tension that feels like it is hovering above the mulched earth. My mind projects silhouettes shaped liked Gorillas between every tree.


Medires informs me we are in only one of two locations that the global population of 400 mountain gorillas can still be found. Illegal poaching and urban sprawl has massively displaced a species we share 98% of genetic information with. This has resulted in national park status for the forest that is patrolled by Ugandan army units alongside the national wildlife authority.


The trek onward reaches the two hour mark, and a shift in Medires’ character signals our close proximity to a family. Pointing out nesting sites and fresh gorilla poop which luckily show no sign of bones, Medires, accompanied by a couple of armed guards, beckons me down the steep sun blessed slope.


I had already been informed by park authorities to maintain a seven meter distance from any one gorilla, however within five minutes of catching a flash of black fur in the bushes, I found myself with three extraordinary mountain gorillas grazing calmly, three meters to each side of me.

Gorilla 3 

By this point I realized that being amongst this species for even a short time, in a place we all share a mutual heritage with, was going to become one of the most profound moments I had ever experienced.



I continued to focus on the intricacies of the silver back in his domain. He sat cross legged almost mirroring my stance, only he was seemingly less impressed at my presence. Hands with palms traced with lines leading to fingers then nails only magnified on him, were immensely humane. Eyes set back in an aged face showing the furrows of his experience were encompassed by thick black hair that stared straight through me; and I just stared right back with pure respect.


Just as my heart rate began to settle in my chest, the broad bare back of the silver boss arched into action. Three meters soon became two, two became one, and sitting stealthily still in the hope he had merely identified a fresh bamboo patch behind me, he passively patrolled past to rest upon the trunk of a tree well accustomed to his stature.


This triggered a notion of acceptance, that we could, only with the utmost respect, enjoy sharing their company for a limited time.


We sat and walked with the family for a further hour until my comfort level increased, allowing me to even start passing shoots of forest foliage to the dominant female in the group. The ease with which she stripped the bark from the branch was humbling, and the sight of her three inch canines puncturing the wood reinforced my gratitude for one of the worlds most powerful creations being not only vegetarian, but so welcoming, diffusing any false sense of hostility in the air.


The time comes to leave the forest and with difficulty I force myself to capture every sight, sound, scent and detail of these creatures in this place to remember and visualize whenever the bustle of a modern world distances me too much from the truth of our roots.


The trek back toward the scarcely populated perimeter of Uganda's forest leads us through pigmy settlements, where we are greeted by a few in some foreign tongue on their way to drop off firewood currently balanced skillfully at the crown of their heads. One last look back into the jungle and it comforts me to know these animals are protected whilst living so easily. The day was one of the highlights of the last nineteen years of my life.



©Jake Graffy


Last modified on Thursday, 20 March 2014