by Richard Coke
A month and a half ago I spent a few days in the Virunga Volcanoes in the hope of seeing the endangered Mountain Gorilla. On one particular day of trekking we were blessed with beautiful blue skies, mild temperatures and manageable muddy trails - if you have done this trek you will understand what I mean about the mud!
Our adventure started in the potato fields, over the park wall and onto the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes, trekking through dense rainforest. After nearly two hours of walking, we arrived at our designated group, "Group 13". Our tracker turned to us and pointed to his left; through the thick foliage we could make out some movement and in that same moment I felt a surge of adrenalin and excitement like never before. A species that is on the verge of extinction and one that I had only dreamt of seeing; imagining being in it's presence since childhood. Was this my moment?!
The trackers slowly called us down the slope one by one into a position where there was a better view. Shortly after getting myself situated I heard a rustling sound and out the corner of my eye a large dark shape silhouetted against the bright sky appeared from the upper branches of the canopy. It was the Silverback, who had decided that he wanted to be exactly where I was sitting. Getting too close to gorillas is not advised, both for their safety and ours, as although they are gentle creatures if you invade their space they may assert dominance with a little shove. I froze, with no where to go except lower, so I crouched down and stayed VERY still. It was his decision to come into my space and this didn't seem to faze him in the least. Knowing I was safe, though still holding my breath, the 290 pound Gorilla passed within inches of me, his musty smell filling my nostrils.
Without acknowledging me he walked with a confidence that I have never seen, even in my own species. He paused for a moment, looked around and then lay down on his side, propping up his torso with his elbow - very calm, cool and collected. For a moment he resembled a person in a Gorilla costume, posing for a photo shoot. Both his body language and the way he closely examined his group and ours was enough to illustrate that this is not just another animal species on planet Earth; this is a species truly close to our own.
We spent the next hour observing this Silverback and the other 25 gorillas within his group, many of whom were adolescents and sub-adults, so full of energy. They say that one of the ten things you have to do before you die is trek to see the mountain gorillas – and amongst all of my wildlife experiences I would have to rate it as one of my best!!! This was an hour that I know I will treasure for the rest of my life.