Getting up close to gorillas in Uganda
By Norma Meyer
As insane as it sounds, the Ugandan wildlife ranger again calmly whispers: “If a gorilla charges at you, stand your ground.” Apparently when a 450-pound potentially limb-tearing beast sprints at you in the jungle, it’s usually a “bluff” attack. A primate prank. Run and all bets are off.
We have just hiked through a high-altitude cloud-shrouded rainforest, a rugged 90-minute climb that requires our machete-flourishing guides to bushwhack our final way while we stumble over volcanic rocks, dodge stinging nettle plants and biting fire ants, and scan for irate elephants or buffalo. (If need be, Caleb, our AK 47-toting protector, will harmlessly “scare-shoot” them away.) Hours earlier, trackers began following fresh dung piles and sleeping nests and now they have located our quest: the nine-member family of an endangered species, some of the last mountain gorillas on Earth.
From the very first glimpse, it is a heart-pounding, heart-melting honor. A magnificent 400-pound silverback clambers up a bamboo tree and balances on cracking branches that seem like toothpicks under his girth. Nearby is mischievous “Baby Fred,” now 8 years old and nicknamed for the dedicated field veterinarian who saved his life twice. Baby Fred goofily wrestles with his fuzzy-furred 4-year-old brother Mutagamba, playfully growling, gently cupping each other in the head, tumbling over in a roughhouse game, and sitting cross-legged to beat their chests. My ape anxiety vanishes; the hairy herbivores glance over with a look that says, ho-hum homo sapiens. Although stay tuned — we will have interaction!
Gorillas share 98 percent of our DNA, and in their awe-striking presence, it is like peering into a mirror (especially if I had been chomping 5-foot-long bamboo stalks and needed a shave). We have one allotted hour with this Nyakagezi family, the only gorillas who over years have been habituated to humans in Uganda’s […]