He is the king on a remote island that is protected by giant mountains and isolated from human contact by violent storms, dense fog and raging seas. All his subjects live under his protection in the lap of Mother Nature, and he keeps the island safe against the unwanted outsiders until an ambitious team of scientists, soldiers and photographers comes exploring. A fierce battle for the control of the island ensues and the king who is a giant ape, with the a little help from a few kind humans, manages to retain peace and control over his kingdom. This is the plot of a 2017 release Kong: Skull Island, but it could very well have been the story of the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda; with the exception that the latter being real and not reel haven’t been too successful in protecting their habitat and themselves against the human exploitation up until recently, when their number started surging.
Volcano National Park: The Trailer
Located only 2.5 hours away from the airport in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Volcano National Park in Rwanda is one of the three natural habitats of the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas in Central Africa. As per an estimate, the total number of mountain gorillas that are remaining, including those who live in Mgahinga, Virunga and Bwindi national parks, is only close 900. If you are an animal lover, and are familiar with the history of mountain gorillas, a walk through the forested-interiors of Rwanda is a reminder of how close we came to losing these mighty creatures.
The Trek: The Beginning
The trek begins with assigning the group of visitors to rangers and a gorilla family. As a protection initiative, every newborn gorilla is officially identified and named at birth. After a briefing session by the rangers on the assigned gorilla family and trekking rules, the trek begins around 9am. After walking through a flat terrain, the climb gets steep when you enter the bamboo forest; the chances of spotting a gorilla also increase manifold. You are filled with exhilaration that quickly turns into admiration as you spot the group of gorillas assigned to you. Easy to spot are silverbacks, the patriarch of the troop, who lead them and also father most young gorillas in the group.
Encounter with Gorillas: The Climax
Mountain gorillas are mostly indifferent to human contact, but you are required to maintain a considerable distance. However, the rule doesn’t apply to the gorillas and they can walk up to you unexpectedly, it’s their home after all and you are just guests. Don’t panic and let your ranger, who knows the gorilla language, do the talking. Watching the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat can get quite intimidating as these creatures seem to have an understanding of the human nature that not many primates have. After all, 98% of their DNA matches the human DNA! Most trekking companies let you spend an hour amidst the gorillas before you have to make your way back to the entrance.
Mountain Gorilla – The Most Human Friend: The Lessons
Though there have been initiatives lately, the human encounter with the mountain gorillas of Rwanda hasn’t always been pleasant, and we are to be blamed for the situation. We almost pushed them to extinction, and the only human who cared the most for them –Dian Fossey, an American primatologist – was killed in Rwanda. The mountain gorillas, on the other hand, have only given us opportunities for travel and tourism, and the chance for the development post the 1990 genocide of Rwanda. It’s high time that we realise that the images of chest-beating and ground-thumping aggressive gorillas as propagated by popular culture are twice removed from the truth. Firstly, the gorillas are shy creatures that would not attack until instigated, and secondly, the gestures interpreted as aggression are, in fact, the warning signs they issue before they are forced to attack in defence. Because King Kong isn’t coming for them anytime soon, it’s important we save our gorillas and give our future generations a chance of an interaction with these adorable primates that have more in common with us than we know.