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Adventure in the midst of the gorillas of Rwanda



James Cornett


What was your most memorable nature experience?” I was recently asked.

I thought for a moment and went through all my desert experiences. Several came to mind but what I finally said had nothing to do with the desert. In fact, the experience was in a rainforest which is as far removed from a desert as one can get, underwater experiences notwithstanding.

“My most memorable experience was with the gorillas in Rwanda,” I said without hesitation.

Many years ago I was lucky enough to join a group of Swiss primatologists on a trek into the mountains of Rwanda, a small country in central Africa. Our goal was to reach one of several gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

In all there were 12 of us including two guides with rifles to protect us not from wild animals but from poachers. The poachers killed adult gorillas, hacked them up for body part souvenirs and captured any baby gorillas to later sell for the wild animal trade.

For three hours we trudged into the mountains wearing plastic rain suits to protect our skin from stinging nettle plants. Although the suits did protect our skin they exacerbated the already warm and extremely humid conditions. We all perspired as never before while our bodies desperately tried to keep cool by evaporating water from our skin. The problem was that the sweat could not evaporate through the plastic rain gear and so we perspired even more. Beneath the plastic our clothes were soaking wet, as though we had just emerged from the ocean.

Then we saw them. Up ahead were a band of gorillas: one huge silver-backed male, two younger males that seemed just as large, a half-dozen females and four youngsters, two of which were still nursing. They immediately saw us but were accustomed to friendly tourist types and so just kept eating the leaves which they gently pulled from tree and shrub branches. Our guide instructed us to sit down in the middle of a large patch of green vines and shrubs and watch them.


I was sitting next to one of the primatologists who was loaded down with camera gear. He opened one of his cases and removed a lens to place on his camera. Without closing the case, he turned and resumed taking pictures. That was a big mistake. A young gorilla, curious as are all primates, approached his case and peered inside. I guess the smooth, metal objects were too tempting and the youngster used both hands to grab a fine, $2,000 lens and pull it from the case. In an instant he vanished into the forest. The camera lens was never seen again much to the chagrin of the owner.


SOURCE : The Desert Sun : HERE

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