The response to posting this video has been overwhelming. Many people around the world have expressed their wonder and support for these beautiful and unique endangered creatures - The Mountain Gorillas. With so many questions we are posting this background to help answer them. Also please take a look at additional images of the gorillas in earlier blog posts on this site.
Video Credits: John J King II , Pam King and Jonathan Rossouw
Music Credit: Apertura, Gustavo Santaolalla, The Motorcycle Dairies
NOTE: Some have asked to experience the encounter as we did without a music bed. That video is here.
ALL Rights Reserved by John J King II, Jonathan Rossouw and The Common Flat Project
Video was shot in a private safari camp (Gorilla Forest Camp) near the Bwindi National Park in the southwest of Uganda. This is a beautiful preserved section of mountain rainforest nestled into an agricultural area of Uganda, but fiercely protected by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Bwindi is home to roughly half of the world's population of endangered Mountain Gorillas - roughly 350 individuals.
For the past twenty years, dedicated wildlife enthusiasts have visited this remote part of East Africa for the express purposes of witnessing these magnificent creatures. It is not an easy place to reach - it takes roughly a days' drive in a four wheel drive vehicle over some pretty challenging roads to get to the village. Access is gained to the forest through a system of permits which are limited but may be purchased through the UWA. Permit holders gather daily after having acquired their permissions, sometimes many months in advance, and are assigned to trek with a local ranger, several trackers and often porters to help carry heavy camera gear (and support the local economy). Standard hiking gear including raingear, lunch and 4 liters of water are required to ensure preparation for a trek that can take any where from 1 to 8 hours to find the gorillas.
Hiking is through rain forest and behind machete-wielding trackers whose job it is to try follow the movements of several troops of wild gorillas that have been habituated to the prescence of humans. This means they are wild, but over a period of years they have been socialized to the visual presence of humans and are no longer afraid; they will not attack or run away when humans are present. This process is very time-consuming and requires amazing patience on the part of local wildlife rangers, as they spend time with these animals daily for months and years in all conditions.
The pay off is huge for thrill seekers like us, because it makes it possible for wildlife junkies to observe Mountain Gorillas in their normal daily lives. There are no guarantees that the gorillas can be located on a given day so trekkers are warned that their $600/day permit may just produce a nice spirited hike in the forest and no gorillas. Rainchecks and do-overs are not permitted. Most trekkers are rewarded however with sightings. Once located, human thrill seekers are permitted exactly one hour with the troop. The experience is magical and the time goes by in a flash! Typically the gorillas ignore the gawking and clicking human visitors who are required to stay approximately 7 meters away.
Very occasionally young gorillas are curious about humans and may approach, but this is very rare. Adult gorilla to human interactions are virtually unheard of among the local rangers! Mountain Gorillas also occur and may be seen in this way in Rwanda (just across the border) and the beginnings of a tourist industry is trying to get under way in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The total population of Wild Mountain Gorillas is about 800. To my knowledge there are no Mountain Gorillas in captivity.
We joined our friend and experienced wildlife guide Jonathan Roussow from Cape Town, South Africa on a two-week expedition through the western remote forests and parks of Uganda, with the primary goal of locating and observing Mountain Gorillas. We allowed three days for this purpose. Our permits allowed us to track two different groups on successive days. Our guides know these gorillas as most of them worked on the original habituation teams that paved the way for this important local economic activity which is critical to protecting forest habitat and the worlds remaining Mountain Gorillas.
We had extraordinary luck on day one and spent a beautiful hour with the Habinyanja group on the edge of a clearing where adult gorillas were eating (they are vegetarians) eating almost exclusively wild celery. The young gorillas were, of course, playing. Fantastic photographic opps! We were in and out of the forest in about 5 hours. Day 2 had us tracking the Rushegura group and trackers took us into a completely different section of the forest. Here we were in a dense canopy and with tracker determination found the troop in a little more than an hour. The group was in a rest period after probably having been feeding all night. We observed up close and personal babies nursing and youth playing in the presence of the silverback that was incredibly heartwarming. So much caring and love among these creatures. We were back to our vehicle, basking in a wildlife encounter high in about 3 1/2 hours. Mission accomplished!!
Imagine our surprise and absolute amazement when we woke up the next morning to find that the Rushegura group had traveled for three hours and tracked us!! The rest, you already know.