A small nation in the heart of Africa, Uganda is often called the pearl of Africa. Home to the revered Rwenzori mountains and equatorial snow, a plethora of national parks spread across the country, high-altitude volcanic lakes and sub-Alpine forests – this small country has so much to offer. My time in Uganda started around Lake Bunyoni, a beautiful lake in western Uganda, nestled between rolling hills dotted with picturesque villages.
Owing to the close proximity of Bunyoni to Bwindi and Mugahinga National parks, I was offered gorilla tours by the aspiring local tour guides. From what I had heard, the gorilla tracking tours sell out months in advance, since the number of people allowed entry has a maximum daily cap. The price tag of $750 for an hour of tracking sounded a little cost-prohibitive to me, but at the same time I was well aware that I may not be back in this part of the world for a while. Last minute cancellations often tend to get you a 50% off. I was weighing my options at Mugahinga and Bwindi, and across the border in Rwanda.
Eventually, I ended up packing my bags and showing up at the Uganda Wildlife Association(UWA) office at the base of Mughahinga National Park. Since Bwindi tends to be the more popular choice for most travelers, I had better chances of hopping on a tracking tour at Mugahinga. Moreover, photographing the mountain gorillas can often be easier there, since the vegetation is a lot sparse compared to Bwindi, which boats of beautiful but dense forest cover. The initial response from UWA was that I was too late to get on a tour that day, and that they were completely booked for the rest of the week. I played the persistence card, hung around with a long face, and somehow managed to coax the UWA office into calling the rangers at the park. 5 minutes later, I was riding a boda-boda, ripping through the dusty path up the volcano.
The rangers greeted me with smiling faces, and we embarked on a tracking tour. Yes, only me and the rangers! I could not have asked for anything better. After a 40 minute hike through the forest, we managed to find the family. One caveat with choosing Mgahinga over other parks is that this is the smallest park in Uganda, with only one family of 11 gorillas. That does not take anything away from the excitement of tracking the gorillas.
The hour that I spent with the family was absolutely unforgettable. Photographing them rolling in the grass, climbing trees, eating leaves, cuddling, making love during an extended cunnilingus session, the human-like nature of these wonderful creatures is very obvious. The money that comes in from tourism has been helping in their conservation, but the human-life is fast encroaching what’s left of their precious little space. Here are a few images of the hour spent with them.
“A portait of a silver-back mountain gorilla at Mgahinga National Park”
” A silverback mountain gorilla eating tree branches”
“An alpha-male descending a tree, before falling with a huge thud”