Visiting a Gorilla

Visiting a Gorilla

Marloes Elbertsen | Koko is a 40-year-old female, who spent most of her life together with Micheal and is known as a true novelist. She speaks about 2,000 words in English and knows over 1,000 signs in sign language. Based on the fact that most adults have about 20,000 – 35,000 words in their dictionary, it sounds like she has a long way to go. But not when I tell you that Koko is a gorilla.

Gorillas are not only highly intelligent, they are also 98% identical to the human DNA. Yes, there is only a 2% difference between you and this enormous monkey. Think about that.

And while you’re wrapping your brain around this fact, I’ll sketch you a situation that sets the pulse-raising: around 6 am you will tie your shoes and check your camera again, knowing you will shoot a moment in life that will be changing your perspective of nature and all its glory. It’s early in the morning so you still need to wake up a bit, but you can already feel the excitement deep down in your stomach. You close the door of your lodge and again you’re amazed by the surroundings. How green and mystical Uganda can be! The guide is smiling at you and asks you if you’re ready to meet a family of the world’s largest primates.Oh my, ready you are.

The dense undergrowth, high altitude and steep, slippery trail will soon have you scratched, muddy and exhausted. Finding yourself deep down in a jungle isn’t the easy path, but as they say; difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations. Or experiences. While stumbling your way through the track, you look at your travelling buddy. He seems just as excited. The park staff tells you about his efforts to keep the animals safe from poaching while giving some of the lucky people the experience of a lifetime. And you know you’re one of them. The Rangers know the ape’s families, their whereabouts and habits. They can ensure your safety and get you to the gorilla family as soon as possible, so the hike remains manageable regardless of your age, fitness or other constraints.

Then, your guide hushes you silent. It’s happening. He found the gorillas. This is the moment. You are eye to eye with a silverback gorilla. A 30kg daily eating, elusive animal of 195kg. In his hands, a bamboo plant appears to be a toothpick. For one hour, you can sit down with him and his dearest. You can join the family during their resting hour and if you’re lucky, they will approach and embrace you. Something that might seem scary, but you’ve been instructed on what to do and you know your way around these animals. That’s why you can sit down in peace and enjoy the splendour.

Gorilla tracking is an expensive but magical experience. It is a game changer. The money you pay for a gorilla tracking permit is being used on maintaining the parks, keeping the animals safe from poaching and diseases. Tourism allows the gorilla’s future and growth in numbers of existence. Without the technology and amazing park staff, the gorilla will be next on the list of “highly endangered animals”. Nothing we want to see happening. But what we do want to see, are the amazing pictures you come home with, if the experience doesn’t blow you off your feet and thereby you just forget the daily life of social media and photographing for a moment. Because I know, you won’t be the first person leaving the jungle in tears. Tears of emotion. Tears of happiness.