Gorillas in Virgunga National Park

Being stuck in Goma after our evacuation from Lodja, it turned out,  afforded us the opportunity to visit Africa’s oldest national park. A short but bone-jarring 40-km ride away lies Virunga National Park, best known for its flagship species, the mountain gorilla. But this massive preserve seems to encapsulate all of Africa in the same area. Check out a stunning, 14-minute video overview of the park to see what I’m talking about.

Home to mountain and lowland rain forests, wet savanna, and a spine of dormant and not-so-dormant volcanoes that straddle the equator, it’s also a haven for people displaced by conflict and various rebel groups who seek it out for the very difficulty of access that makes it so poorly known.

We spent just over 24 hours in the park – enough time to soak up some of the superb accommodations and service at Mikeno Lodge and to hike into the mountains and visit the gorillas.

I’ve included a few pictures below that struggle to capture what a surreal experience it was.

Mikeno Lodge sits perched over a forested valley brimming with resident wildlife - tree-dwelling monkeys, scavenging baboons and chimpanzees are common visitors.
Mikeno Lodge sits perched over a forested valley brimming with resident wildlife – tree-dwelling monkeys, scavenging baboons and chimpanzees are common visitors.
We had beautiful weather, including a rare view of Mount Mikeno, all the way to the park boundary.
It started to rain almost as soon as we entered the forest, but after following a forest elephant's path and scaring up a few buffalo, we found our gorilla family.
It started to rain almost as soon as we entered the forest, but after following a forest elephant’s path and scaring up a few buffalo, we found our gorilla family.
We were asked to keep a seven-meter distance (when the forest allowed) from the gorillas).
We were asked to keep a seven-meter distance (when the forest allowed) from the gorillas. (Photo by Katherine Price)
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The gorillas, especially the silverback pictured here, were not obliged to respect the same parameters. He brushed right past us with no acknowledgement, as if to say, ‘You’re no threat to me.’
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The silverback’s mother sat off to the side, eyes missing nothing happening in the midst of her family.
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After a bit of initial bluster from the silverback until he recognized our tracker Yaya, the family ignored us in favor of the vegetation around them.
Hard to believe a vegetarian diet can produce muscles like that...
Hard to believe a vegetarian diet can produce muscles like that…
The gorilla's intelligent eyes make clear he's a hominid. The proportions of his body, however, tell another story.
The gorilla’s intelligent eyes make clear he’s a hominid. The proportions of his body, however, tell another story.
This little fellow was the only member of the family to show us much interest.
This little fellow was the only member of the family to show us much interest.
The silverback couldn't be bothered.
The silverback couldn’t be bothered.
The weather turned quickly. By 1 pm, we learned quickly why everything was so green.
The weather turned quickly. By 1 pm, we learned why everything was so green.
We found other primates back at the lodge, including these olive baboons.
We found other primates back at the lodge, including these olive baboons.
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One thought on “Gorillas in Virgunga National Park”

  1. Once again your prose and photographs make me feel like I am right there with you. John, thanks ever so much for sharing….what a totally, life altering experience.

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