Both the 2D and the 3D team got together, (all 7 of us) to hike up to see the larger gorilla group led by silverback Humba. That was quite a different experience to Rugendo. Firstly they were on a different mountain, so no long Man truck ride on a bumpy road, just a quick drive down the highway. But then we had a much longer VERY steep hike up to the ranger station. Thankfully, we had to wait for the rangers to find the gorillas, so we had a chance to nap in the cool mountain air after our first 45-minute ascent.
From there we hiked further up the mountain, and it seemed just as we got close to Humba’s group, they’d move! They were feeding on wild banana plants and had left a path of plant destruction for us to follow. Interestingly, they don’t eat the bananas, they just rip apart the whole plant to get the juicy, pithy middle stalk, which looks like a ginormous palm heart. So we kept following, and didn’t start filming, since there’s no sense taking 20 minutes to put the camera together if they’re just going to move again. At one point they dipped down into a massive river ravine, only to clamber easily up and out the other side- NOT so easy for the turtle brigade (us and the porters). We’d been hiking in pursuit of gorillas on the move for nearly 2 hours, so we decided to stop and wait a few minutes and just have a ranger go ahead to let us know when they looked like they’d be stopped in a single place for a while. So there, among some annihilated banana plants, I took my second nap for the day. After a while the ranger came back and said they’d settled so we moved nearby and started to get set up. Just as porters had laid down our cases and we were setting up camera gear, the silverback rushed right in among our clearing and did a full chest-beat display! It was magnificent! It would have been frightening except that it happened so fast, and then he just stood there posing, just to let us know he was boss… and then wandered off to rip apart some banana trees. As if that wasn’t exciting enough, a young male then wandered in and started to act like he was going to do the same, practicing being tough like the big man, but much less convincing! Then, a curious female came past and wanted to sniff our cases. At this point the head ranger rightfully grabbed our cases and moved them away from the curious animals which protected them from contact with our germs but clearly spoiled their fun so they wandered off to join the other gorillas feeding.
We were getting great footage of some youngsters feeding on palm hearts, and the big silverback standing and using his powerful arms to rip open the trees, the food so delicious that the group was making happy grunting noises we hadn’t heard before. Then something very exciting happened- two females faced off and started a pretty vicious fight, right in front of us! The silverback, who’d been off tree-mauling, came running in and vocalized to the effect that he’d put the smack-down if they didn’t knock it off, and the fight ended instantly. I’d heard that silverbacks can be quite disciplinary with their females, but hadn’t ever seen it first-hand. In this instance Humba merely threatened, and the ladies went back to more sociable behavior.
We were all so happy when we left after our hour of filming! It had been a truly special day, with unique interactions we’d not yet seen, an intimate glimpse into the daily lives of mountain gorillas, and we’d captured (most of) them on film!
Beginning the climb to visit Humba (photo by Ben Cunningham)
At least hiking through fields is a bit easier than forest (photo by Mike Dillon)
Tough day, nap one (photo by Mike Dillon)
Waiting for the gorillas to stop moving (photo by Craig Carter)
You want me to hike up what?! (photo by Mike Dillon)
Mountain gorillas feeding on banana plants (photo by Mike Dillon)