This Mountain Gorilla lives on the top of what I’m sure must be the steepest volcano in the Congo, a country renowned for steep volcanoes. But ain’t he beautiful?
The trick is,’ explained our guide, ‘don’t show any fear. If they sense you are afraid it only makes it worse. If the silverback charges, stand there looking submissive and unafraid.’ Submissive and unafraid weren’t two expressions I previously had any reasons to deploy together. I wondered if I could get it right. I’m a terrible actor and now it appeared my lack of thespian skills might get me savaged by a gorilla.
The 700 or so remaining mountain gorillas live in a small mountainous area of the Virunga volcanoes that straddle Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. There are several habituated families in The DRC and each are visited by a group of six tourists along with an entourage of armed guards, trackers and guides. The trackers had been out since 6 a.m. locating our group which was unimaginatively called ‘Group M’ and they radioed back coordinates to our guide. The machine-gun toting guards are standard procedure since rebels attacked and killed tourists and rangers in 1999 bringing gorilla tourism to its knees.
Group M as it turned out seemed to like to live on the top of what I’m sure must have been the steepest volcano in an area renowned for steep volcanoes. Frequent rest stops were called for; some of our group looked like a couple of shots of oxygen wouldn’t have gone amiss. I was contemplating asking our guide if there happened to be any lowland gorillas about nearby when he called a halt. ‘They are nearby,’ he said vaguely signalling to a viney mess of overgrown bushes that looked in no way different from all the other tangled bushes we had been pushing our way through. ‘Remember, don’t run. If the silverback approaches look down and SLOWLY move back and don’t talk or make any sudden movements.’
It was exciting. All I could see at this stage was a shrub and already my heart was beating uncontrollably. Every time the guide mentioned a new rule – don’t stare at them, don’t cough in their direction, don’t use a flash, don’t be tempted to touch them (I wasn’t) especially the cute babies (still wasn’t), my heart skipped a beat and lurched into a series of thrilling palpitations.