Last week I went to visit Kuryama group for a routine health check.  Kuryama is the son of Titus, and has proved to be a strong, benevolent ruler like his father.

The morning started at 5:30 – I had to pick up the trackers at 6:40 and it is about a 30 minute drive to the parking spot.  I had not been to this particular parking, so I wanted to get an early start to be sure I could find it!  It was 59 degrees as I started down the road toward Gisenyi just after sunrise.  I passed kilometers of small cultivated fields – fields that go all the way up and over the mountains.  There was a mist hanging between mountain ridges and everything felt fresh.

Fields up and over the hillsides.

 The road was crowded with people walking.  Here in Rwanda everybody walks.  I saw women dressed in their beautiful colors, with babies on their backs, carrying water jugs or baskets filled to the brims with fruit and vegetables on their heads.  I saw five year olds with babies on their backs following there mothers.  There were people in starched white business shirts and pressed black pants, women in business dresses.  There were men with bags of potatoes piled on bicycles, and they labored as they pushed them up the steep hills of the roadside, or they were FLYING down the other side.  I saw a man with a table and 4 chairs on his head.  And hundreds of kids in their khaki or blue school clothes were walking to school.   This is morning in Rwanda.

I met the tracker and guards, parked the truck and immediately headed straight up the mountain.  We walked for 90 minutes, winding up through the fields where people were hard at work planting, cultivating and weeding.  As we ascended we passed some beautiful small homesteads.  It is the rainy season, so the fields are healthy, livestock is well fed; things are good.

Fields and farms on the way to the forest edge.

We finally came to the edge of the forest where there is a stone buffalo wall – it sometimes helps keep the forest buffalo out of the cultivated fields.  The edge of the forest is obvious for miles.

Forest boundary.

We climbed over the wall and immediately everything changed.  Sounds were more muted, the air was thick with the smells of vegetation, and was cooler under the canopy.  Birds were singing everywhere and within 5 minutes we could no longer hear any people sounds at all, other than our own footsteps and the intermittent discussions about the trail.  I was beat from the climb to the wall, but as soon as we entered the forest my energy returned.

Kuryama group was only 30 minutes into the forest down in a small ravine.  The vegetation was so thick that sometimes my foot fell through up to my thigh and had to be careful pulling my leg out so I didn’t lose my boot.  In this particular place the nettles were terrible – I don’t know how they can sting through rain pants and cargo pants, but they can!  At one point I accidently grabbed a thick nettle stem as I was falling – my hand was numb for almost a day…  I wonder if they bother the gorillas at all?

As we descended into a small ravine I smelled them.  Gorilla smell is so pungent and familiar.  Trackers had found the night nests, and we knew the group would be close.  Trackers followed the gorilla trails away from the nests, up and out of this ravine and then back down into another ravine.   Suddenly there they were – it sill amazes me how close we can be before we can actually see the gorillas!

Silverback night nest – looks cozy!

One of the trackers following the morning gorilla trail.

There was a group of 2 females along with their juveniles and infants, resting in a pile, playing and grooming.  It is difficult to capture the moment in words – I was standing in a lush green ravine, the air was clear and there is a cool breeze, I could hear the drone bees in the lobelia flowers, birds were flitting around and chirping constantly.  And gorillas were all around me grunting contentedly, moving past me almost as if I was not there.  I stood for a while just to take it all in.

A baby and her big brother sitting on mom.

Grooming is an important part of gorilla social bonding.

Kuryama himself, almost hidden by vegetation.

One of the other silverbacks in the group with a large handful of breakfast!

A baby keeping an eye on me!

One of the trackers helped me to identify all of the individuals in the group.  When we do our monthly health checks on each group we try to have a good long look at each gorilla in the group.  This was a good day – everybody was happy and healthy.

Theodette, a tracker and a gorilla, if you look carefully!

I left Theodette, one of the Karisoke research associates, to her observations, and reluctantly headed back down the mountain to attend to my other duties, but this morning with the gorillas will keep me fueled for days!

Help the Gorilla Doctors.