East Africa Bush Tails

A trek to see the Agashya Gorilla Family

At 6am all the guests were down in the lodge for an amazing breakfast consisting of a hot and a cold buffet. Our guests were fitted with gators, a snack, back packs and gloves. At 6:30am we all took the 10min drive to the Park Headquarters where we were allocated our Gorilla families and guides. After a short but brief introduction, we jumped back in our vehicles and were off. Everyone’s faces were filled with expressions of anxiousness and uncertainty but above all was that off uncontrollable excitement. The vehicles dropped us off at the closest point to our allocated Gorilla family. We were given the option of a porter each. Through porter work, these guys now have the opportunity to generate a legal income, far removed from a life where subsistence hunting was their only way of putting food on the table. By supporting them, we also help protect the forest and it’s magnificent fauna and flora, which we have come to love and enjoy so much. After a 15 minute hike through the farm land, we reached the park boundary, a 76km stone wall erected to to demarcate the National Park from the farm land. This construction started in 2002 and stretches all the way from the Uganda/Rwanda border to the Democratic Republic of Congo/Rwanda border. Also erected to stop the buffalo from damaging the farmer’s crops. A quick briefing on the do’s and don’t’s in the forest and we were off to see the Gorillas.

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Beautiful green lush surroundings helps you relax and forget about the uncertainties. A 150m fairly steep incline quickly pushed the breathing up and got our hearts racing. Our hike took us along the brim of a beautiful crater. Everyone stopped to have a quick peek into the crater floor and soon the steep uphill was forgotten. The nervous chatter seem to be dropping as everyone is putting a little more focus on breathing. One hour and thirty minutes later, we reached the Trackers. This is always a welcoming sight to most as this means that the Gorillas are now within a few steps. Cameras checked, a sip of water and off we go. No food or water from this point on! Now the excitement has reached a whole new level!!! A few nervous giggles were quickly turned into absolute silence when all off a sudden the loud chest-beating of the Dominant Silverback was heard. A narrow footpath opened up into a clearing and there he was, only 30ft in front of us, Agashya! His name means “special” in the local language. This family was not always this big in number. When Agashya took over, he went to other familes and collected females which he then introduced into this family, now 23 strong.

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We reached this family as they started to move around, foraging. Feeding was definitely taking priority above all at this stage. With the short rainy season here, there are an abundance of young, fresh bamboo shoots. A favorite for gorillas and is probably seen as “the time of plenty”. Our whole hour with the family, was spent following them through the forest. Two of the Blackbacks were less interested in filling their bellies and more so in testing their strength, roughing each other up. The strength of these animals are just insane, taking a bamboo with a diameter of 2 to 3 inches and just snapping it with no effort at all.
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This family, previously known as Group 13, has lots of youngsters and this always makes for great fun watching them. Our 1 hour has come to an end and it was time for us to leave. Always too soon!
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– by: Nelis Wolmarans
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