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Did you know it ? 2 939 Australians visited the Volcanoes National Park in 2013. Stephen Scourfield is one of them




 Stephen Scourfield, Travel Editor The West Australian


Last year, 22,904 people visited the gorillas – 9962 from the US, 3315 from the UK and 2939 from Australia. Taking into account population, one might say that Australians may be the most interested people in the world in mountain gorillas.


First I had heard another gorilla drumming on its chest just over on my right, close as anything through the thick forest. Then soft footsteps behind, and I spin slowly to see this solid female with a young gorilla on her back. She stops and stares at me, and the baby does too. I feel rather stuck in the middle of a family reunion.


Guide Augustin Mumyaneza is there with good advice. “Just step to the side. Slowly.” But as I start to follow his instruction, the female suddenly steps to the side herself, and almost instantly vanishes back into the throat-high stinging nettles, with big-as-dinner-plate leaves.


I turn again to the silverback, who has now collapsed on the floor and apparently fallen instantly asleep. He has wrapped his big hands around a face as black and shiny as patent leather shoes. The fingers are big as sausages with rough, familiar, rather dirty finger nails.


He must be close to 200kg, but despite the sheer size of him, there is something baby-like about his sleepy-time mannerisms. He soon opens his almost ruby eyes again, and it is true that when a human and a mountain gorilla meet eye to eye there is a recognition. It was worth the walk.


I only arrived in the eastern African country of Rwanda yesterday – flying with Qatar Airways from Perth to the Rwandan capital of Kigali via Doha. After a two-hour drive on a smooth bitumen road through what I think is the cleanest country in Africa, I was at the comfortable Mountain Gorilla View Lodge near Ruhengeri, staring up at the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park.


Mustering with other gorilla trekkers at 7am, I have walked with Augustin and other guides and porters from a high village, through fertile soil plots of potatoes and onions, bananas and beans, sorghum and pyrethrum, in a rich, productive landscape that knows the more gentle touch of the human hand, rather than that of big machinery.


At the edge of this growing land, there’s a wall with a homemade ladder, and it’s rather a King Kong moment for me. For the other side of the wall is the domain of the gorillas. We walk single file up little paths, sometimes muddy and a little slippery, sometimes over rocks. Every now and then Augustin gathers us and encourages us to “enjoy this gift” of being in the jungle, high in the beautiful volcanic mountains of Rwanda. And I do.


It is more than two hours before he gathers us again, to talk with us about our behaviour before the gorillas, and to teach us a little of their language. We all grunt the gorilla greeting in turn, until Augustin is satisfied. I am surprised by how close the silverback is when we first see him. He’s just, well . . . there . . . almost beside me.





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