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In the footsteps of gorillas : Indian tourist visits Rwanda [The Hindu.com]



Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is rich with a growing population of gorillas. Gorilla safaris bring you up close and personal with them

Gorilla tracking is often listed as ‘one of 50 things to do before you die’. Vague memories of a film seen many years ago on Diane Fossey, the American primatologist who had spent nearly 20 years with gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, came to mind. The thought of tracking them in their natural habitat was at once tantalising and fearful.

Through Earth Safari in Delhi, we headed out to Ruhengeri at Volcanoes National Park on a cool July evening. The Park forms part of the Virunga mountains, a chain of active and inactive volcanoes which span Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. Together with the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, it is the only habitat on earth for the two populations of critically endangered mountain gorillas that survive today. Thanks to the unique and intensive efforts initiated by the Rwandan Tourist Board combining tourism and conservation, the population of mountain gorilla has been growing at a slow but steady rate since the 1970s. As of 2013, the estimated total number is approximately 880 individuals.

The following morning, we were up at the crack of dawn and on our way to the Park headquarters at Kinigi for a briefing. There are 10 habituated gorilla groups for tourists in Rwanda. A gorilla permit costs $750 per head and has to be purchased in advance.

The steep amount is justified by the fact that the funds are used for the preservation of mountain gorillas, and their habitat and to support communities living around the Park. Children under 15 years are not allowed on the trek.

We were then divided into groups of eight based on individual fitness levels. No more than 10 groups are permitted every day. We were assigned the Ntambara group consisting of 12 gorillas including three silverbacks. The rules are simple: stay quiet, keep a distance of seven metres from the gorillas (to minimise possible transmission of human disease), back off if one approaches.

The briefing over, we set off to a nearby village from where the trek would begin. At the village, porters were hired for $10 each to assist with the climbing and backpacks. Many of the porters say they were erstwhile poachers who have since been rehabilitated.

We walk through farmland and beautiful fields of pyrethrum till we reached the stone boundary wall of the park. Joined by armed guards, we climb the wall and trek along the Virunga volcano’s slopes, at an elevation of 2,600 m.



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