Fieldset
Gorillas

It is only money but 500 dollars is a lot. I debated about buying a permit to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda for a long time. To me, 500 dollars is many days of sweat and toil. Permit holds spend only one hour with the gorillas. Is anything worth 500 dollars an hour?

It is only money but 500 dollars is a lot. I debated about buying a permit to see the mountain gorillas in Rwanda for a long time. To me, 500 dollars is many days of sweat and toil. Permit holds spend only one hour with the gorillas. Is anything worth 500 dollars an hour?

Here is Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park there are eight groups of habituated mountain gorillas. Each day, seven people are allowed to visit each group. A typical gorilla group contains seven to twelve members headed by one or more male silverbacks. The other members are females, babies, and younger males called "blackbacks." Each gorilla group has a name. After arriving at park headquarters at 7 a.m. I was assigned to see the Susa Group. Susa has the most members but is also the most remote. Tourists wanting to see them must be willing and able to hike a long distance.

It was a hard trek of three hours straight up the side of a mountain, beginning at an altitude of 9000 feet. The path was toppled trees and trampled plants. My feet rarely made contact with solid ground. Without a walking stick to plunge down to the earth and use as a third leg, it would have been nearly impossible.

Photo: D Postels | Silverback mountain gorilla of Rwanda.

Photo: D Postels | Silverback mountain gorilla of Rwanda.

So at noon today I had my contact with the mountain gorilla. Susa has two silverbacks, the extremely large (200 kilogram) dominant males. There were approximately a dozen females and as many blackbacks and babies. Bigger gorillas lazed on the ground while the babies swung in the trees. National Park rules state that humans are to stay seven meters away but one especially friendly female came much closer to inspect us.

Photo: D Postels | Mountain gorillas of Rwanda

Photo: D Postels | Mountain gorillas of Rwanda

When we were halfway down the mountain, the wind picked up, clouds rolled in, the temperature dropped, and I was drenched from my first Rwandan rainstorm. By the time we drove back to town the sun was out. Our group celebrated our successful gorilla encounter with cold beer in the warm sun. There are approximately 710 mountain gorillas in the world, all threatened due to territorial encroachment. I spent part of today with a few of them and felt lucky to do so.