Preserving Primates

What was particularly striking about tracking the gorillas in the Virungas was both their nonchalance in our presence and their peaceable behaviour

8/1/2016 3:58:53 PM
written By : Basabi Banerjee Print

Rwanda, the ‘land of a thousand hills’, has much to offer tourists, but the mountain gorilla is indisputably its top attraction. Unlike their cousins the lowland gorillas, the Virunga species (named after the mountain range they inhabit), do not breed in captivity; tracking them in the wild, therefore, is the only way to view these magnificent primates.

The population of the critically endangered mountain gorilla plummeted to 250 in the 1970s and the awe-inspiring efforts of the famous American primatologist Dian Fossey, did much to curtail poaching. Her efforts resulted in her murder, probably by a hostile poacher, at her research centre on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi in 1985. The cinematic account of her life, ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, generated global interest in the mountain gorillas she was studying and trying to protect.

The final leg of our holiday in Rwanda in April this year, provided the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to track these iconic animals in Volcanoes National Park. After a rather long drive from Rubavu, the picturesque Virunga range of volcanoes, which straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, heightened our anticipation of the highlight of our trip, as we approached Musanze, a large town near Volcanoes National Park. Volcanoes veiled in mist and bearing exotic names, stood like sentinels in the horizon. Mount Bisoke beckoned the adventurous trekker with the promise of an entrancing crater lake at its summit. Mount Karisimbi was a familiar name, as my son had climbed it while tracking the Susa family of gorillas in March. His trek, however, had involved a steep ascent which we had no intention of attempting. We were relieved when our guide, Lynn, reassured us that the hike to see the Sabyinyo family, a troop of 17 gorillas led by a giant silverback called Guhondo, was less demanding and the one we would probably be assigned. The ascent up Mount Sabyinyo involved a fairly easy walk from the trailhead to the forest boundary and then up gentle slopes to the location where Guhondo and his family had been tracked.

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