It is our last performance today and our last trek with the gorillas. We get allocated the Sabyinyo family,it has the oldest silverback Guhonda at 46 years of age and two other silverbacks his son now a very strong male and his brother Big Ben with a bald patch on his head. This family has 16 members , one of the females many years ago had been caught in a poachers trap and lost her hand. Vets were able to help her and she has successfully had three babies over the years. Mortality rate of the babies is about 60% , worse when they are born in the rainy season as it is colder and harder for the Mums to keep them warm. The poaching has been virtually eradicated in this park thanks to the dedicated work and vigilance of both the surrounding communities who see a benefit in the health and growth of the population of gorillas and the tracking staff.
Today is a tough walk , there was a big thunderstorm the night before and we are sinking to our ankles in thick mud as we follow the guides and trackers who are macheting a path for us through the vegetation.
We first come across Guhonda, he is ready for a rest and has a big stretch while his offspring prance around at eye level in the trees.
Just a few meters away is his son, the next silverback in line. Despite his age, Guhonda still has the respect of the other family members and is still the boss. His son though looks quite impressive.
While we watch him there is rustling in the trees above and out pops Big Ben the other silverback. He impossibly sits on a thin branch munching on surrounding vegetation and then comes out of the canopy , two silverbacks exchange positions with the now familiar communication of greeting which we have learnt to imitate.
Big Ben is clearly a ponderer, he lies in front of us and without sounding too weird about this, he seems to be analyzing the situation. It seems only fair that we get checked out as well, but he just has this calm look to him as we share the moment.
My camera runs out of battery so for the last encounter which is a Mum and an 8 month old I just get to watch! This is perfect, the little girl is really active, although she keeps on checking in with Mum who seems quite happy to have us so close , she is also curious. After displays of amazing dexterity by her tiny hands, swinging single handed, hanging upside down and leaping from one branch to another, she decides to come over to give us a good checking over. This is when the guide has to turn on some gorilla communication to tell her not to leap into our laps, she stops , listens and turns back with a final look over her shoulder. We do not want the gorillas to become habituated to the point of physical contact, this making my interaction from the other day even more treasured.
The hour is up, we start heading back with a final good bye from the baby doing an upside down dangle in an opening just away from Mum but to get her final look at us.
This has been a great farewell , we disregard the slipping and sliding in the mud, just rolling the reel of memory banks as we head back. Just as well we are not heading home to Australia as I don’t think we would be let back in with those boots.
It is a farewell to the 5 Volcanoes NP and the gorillas, we have experienced consistent kindness and friendliness making us feel very welcome. I struggle to comprehend how this badly traumatized nation can have moved with such strength and resilience forward. Looking at the history of the events of the genocide and its unfolding it is a very dark blot against the Western world conscience and how we just let it happen at the time when relatively little intervention could well have stopped the carnage.