MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN RWANDA – MEET KWITONDA
In October 2005, I trekked into the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda in search of the rare and endangered Mountain Gorillas. Over a two day period, two groups were encountered, Group 13 and the Sabyinyo Group, with exceptional close encounters allowing for some fantastic photographic opportunities.
Nothing prepares you for that surge of emotion when you first look into a gorilla’s eyes. However much you’ve anticipated the moment, the mutual recognition between man and animal is profoundly and surprisingly moving. Countless visitors recount the exhilaration of meeting these gentle giants. On a continent renowned for unparalleled wildlife, it’s generally held at the apex of the game-viewing pyramid.
Watching them play, feed, relax or share affection in the rich, damp bamboo forest captivated the American primatologist Dian Fossey for almost two decades. Her life among the gorillas was celebrated in the film Gorillas in the Mist, which was partially shot on location in Rwanda.
This thrilling world lies in the Virunga mountains, straddling the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. In Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, conservation and tourism are uniquely intertwined. For decades, the Virungas were pressurised by the region’s human population, forcing the gorillas into an evershrinking range. Plans to clear a large area of the park for cattle grazing in 1979 galvanised conservationists. A tourism programme was introduced to enable the gorillas to “pay for themselves” and this has been astonishingly successful, ensuring the protection of the park, surveillance of gorilla groups and generating revenue. The gorillas are driving the tourism industry that is helping rebuild post-genocide Rwanda. By 2001, researchers identified 359 Mountain gorillas in the Virungas, a 10% increase over 11 years. Almost half of these live in Rwanda, confirming the country’s status as the premier location for this most rewarding wildlife encounter.
Article by Dean Polley (www.deanpolley.com)
Dean Polley is a photographic artist who focuses on images of nature and wildlife. Born in South Africa, he was exposed to the natural world and African wildlife from an early age and has spent countless hours in the bush in pursuit of images of animals in their natural environment. His travels have taken him through a variety of game reserves and national parks throughout southern and east Africa.
Dean prides himself in taking pictures of wild animals in their natural environment. Animals are born free and need to remain that way.
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