Gorilla Doctors supporters Wilke and Elizabeth See-Tho visited Rwanda last summer and trekked to see Sabyinyo group in Volcanoes National Park. Rambunctious blackback Shirimpumu made sure their visit was a memorable one (scroll to bottom of blog to watch video). Avid followers of the Gorilla Doctors blog and Facebook page, the See-Tho’s kindly agreed to write about their experience in Rwanda and love for the mountain gorillas:

Elizabeth and Wilke See-Tho and their fellow gorilla-trekkers in Rwanda.

“Travel memories that spring to mind and bring a smile are usually a sufficient measure of a worthwhile trip.  We were reminded recently, however, that the best travel experiences, like those that include mountain gorillas, leave a more significant imprint.

Once back down the mountain, after our short time spent in the company of the Sabyinyo group, our fascination with gorillas and their wellbeing wasn’t nearly sated, and we don’t imagine it ever will be.

In the video of our morning in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, you can see that we were fortunate to find the Sabyinyo group in a small meadow on a bright blue-sky day.  Sixty minutes raced by, but it was enough time to focus on each member of the clan and to observe their habits, their relationships and their role within the group.  It was enough time both to want to try a bite of thistle and to know we didn’t have the skills to do it painlessly. It was enough time to admire the universal bond between unflappable mothers and their pesky young.  And it was enough time to discover that “duck and cover” is absolutely the best response when a mischievous blackback charges your way.

I was, in fact, so distracted by all of this that when one of our own group stripped down to underwear in a desperate effort to shake off red ants, I missed it.  On an ordinary day, I think I would have noticed something like that; but on this day, the gorillas had my attention to themselves.

Our curiosity to know more about gorillas in general and especially those from Sabyinyo group has continued since we returned home, and it was this interest that led us to a Gorilla Doctors’ blog report that originally had been posted a few months before our trip.  In it, Dr. Dawn reported on a respiratory illness that was spreading through the Sabyinyo group.  Her concern for Guhonda, Shirimpumu and the others, and her focus on their care, gave us our first impression of the unusual, invaluable work of this organization.  That we recognized the names of the patients Dr. Dawn discussed is significant only to us, but to us it is amazing and slightly surreal.  We can certainly attest to Shirimpumu being well over his cough and at his unruly best during the morning we spent with him in July!

Blackback Shirimpumu, as mischievous as he is handsome.

As we continue to follow the lives of this vulnerable population and the work of Gorilla Doctors, we find it both remarkable and reassuring that mountain gorillas have the undivided attention of such an experienced, indefatigable team.  During our stay in Rwanda, only seven hours or so was spent hiking through dense mountainous forest, but that was more than enough to be humbled by the Gorilla Doctors’ ability and determination to track and care for every gorilla in the region, no matter what border the animal has crossed, how deep into the forest he or she has traveled, or the complexity of the injury or illness to be treated.

To spend even those few minutes with the mountain gorillas is something we had wished to do for many years.  Now that we have had our chance, we can hope it will be a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity, at least.  Until we are able to return to this beautiful corner of the world, we will track the gorillas through cyberspace and follow hopefully the work of those who champion their best interests.”


You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting us by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.