Saturday, February 13, 2010

Traveling Continues II…

After going to Uganda we took a trip again to the north but this time to Musanze, (aka Ruhengeri) the place where Diane Fossey once lived amongst the endangered mountain gorillas at the foot of a string of volcanoes that divide Rwanda, the DRC, and Uganda. This place is one of extreme beauty. We came to visit the gorillas but we weren’t sure if it would be worth the $$. We hiked about 1½ hours through a tone of stinging needles and left our walking sticks and other items so that the gorillas didn’t suspect we were poachers. Our guides made calls to let the gorillas know we are friendly. Then… we came across 1, 2, 3… about 15 mountain gorillas. We were allowed to get up to about 20 ft to them but in reality they got up to about 12 ft from us. They were relaxing, sitting down and eating wild celery or other things. They continued as if we weren’t even there. The silver back (an adult male and head of the harem), was effortlessly gnawing on the bark of a very large branch he had ripped down. As Rebekah and I turned our backs to an adult female to take a photo of us with the gorilla in the background, the gorilla decided to approach us. From studying the gorillas at the zoo in Albuquerque (a university class), I suppose the gorilla thought we were inviting her to groom us. The guide quickly got us to move further away. The gorilla then gave her own grooming invitation to us. This whole time I felt completely unthreatened by them, even though they could potentially and effortlessly rip us to pieces. They knew we weren’t there to hurt them. If anything we were a minor disturbance to their nap time. Furthermore, I was very impressed at the vision of conservation that the park shared. The tours are expensive but it keeps the number of visitors down thereby protecting the gorillas. Supposedly, a large percentage of profit flows into adjacent communities thereby showing the community how the tourist attraction can directly benefit them and reduces poaching. Lastly, the park is constantly monitored through a collaboration with the military to prevent poaching. Over the years the number of mountain gorillas as steadily climbed due to this vision of conservation.

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