Wild gorilla tracking

Our thrilling wildlife expedition is set in the foothills of Mount Sabyinyo within Parc National des Volcano, in the northern province of Rwanda. Mountain gorillas live in the wild in the high-elevation African rainforests of the Virunga volcano range along the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. 

Land of a thousand hills

It's not by chance that we’ve chosen these Rwandan coordinates to track the notorious mountain gorilla. It’s the exact section of the African jungle where the American pioneering female zoologist Dian Fossey undertook her extensive daily study of silverback mountain gorilla groups over a period of 18 years. An iconic place and an extraordinary front-row seat to the jungle!

First furry encounters 

After a great night’s sleep in the lodge, our team sets of for a dynamic uphill hike on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes, where the paths have to be cut through six-foot-tall grass, bamboo and eucalyptus forest. As always, we’ve chosen the path less travelled by. Enjoying nature and panting for breath, while crossing the 3000 meter line. The higher we get, the more silence becomes our best compagnon. The dense undergrowth and steep, slippery trail soon has us scratched, muddy and exhausted.

On the way up, our guide Oliver introduces us to the secrets of local jungle life and the basics of gorilla language. The Silverbacked Mountain Gorilla are highlisted on the Red List of Endangered Species. Researchers believe that only about 700 of them exist in the wild today, having survived poaching, nearby wars, disease and habitat loss. Fossey’s work inspired a conservation and study movement that still lasts today. Many organizations work actively to protect the gorilla population and its rapidly disappearing habitat, including the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge we spend the night in. Ecotourism has a positive impact on the decline of the species. We feel humbled every step of the way. 

After a few hours of intense hiking, our guide advises us to be on our guard from now on. To our untrained eyes, it's almost impossible to spot the primates in the thick vegetation of the dense rainforest. Luckily, our guide and his trackers notice every knuckle print, bent stem and absent leaf. One of them is a former gorilla poacher who changed hearts. He has been following different gorilla families from dawn to dusk since a few years. From here on, every sound makes our hearts pound louder.

I bet yours would too, given the fact that they are even larger than lowland gorillas, weigh over 300 pounds and have imposing big faces. The Silverbacks are the fully mature males of the mountain gorilla subspecies. Named for the way the black hair on their backs changes to silver as they age. 

Adrenaline treasures

We keep climbing onto the ridge-line that joins Sabyinyo and Bisoke volcanoes. It takes us about 5 hours to find our first gorilla's nest, in a lofty spots in an ancient volcano. And then, it’s the moment of truth. The first eyecontact is poignant and breathtaking...  When the first black fur appears through the glossy jungle greenery... it’s pure magic. A chubby belly here, an arm and elbow there.We hold our breaths collectively. There’s no sound but the wind and some soft gorilla snores.  During a humbling and privileged sighting, we observe the Hirwa family, which means “the lucky ones” in local language. Wondering who are the true lucky ones, we witness the natural beauty of these free-roaming Great Apes.  The family consists of 12 individuals: 1 dominant silverback and its son, 5 adult females, 2 sub adult females and 3 babies. 

We track them carefully and slow, until we are no longer threatening or interesting to them. The head of the clan is Munyinya, an imposing 400-pound silverback who wandered through Congo and Rwanda before he settled here with a few females. The little ones get up to all sorts of mischief, including the cutest all-mighty chest beats ever. 

After a few hours, we leave in absolute amazement. This is nature at its best. A once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience.

We track them carefully and slow, until we are no longer threatening or interesting to them. The head of the clan is Munyinya, an imposing 400-pound silverback who wandered through Congo and Rwanda before he settled here with a few females. The little ones get up to all sorts of mischief, including the cutest all-mighty chest beats ever. 

After a few hours, we leave in absolute amazement. This is nature at its best. A once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experience.

Oliver, guide & gorilla interpreter (40)

“I grew up as a kid in the valley. I’m a gorilla guide for more than 15 years now. A lot of things have changed ever since. But in this case, more ecotourists mean more gorillas! My country may evoke memories of the horrific genocide that brutalised this country the nineties. Although today we’re one of Africa’s most stable nations. Rwandans embrace a new-found optimism.”

Looking for shelter?

The Sabynyo Silverback Lodge is the perfect base from which to explore this unique corner of Africa and its silverblack beauties.

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