Visiting Virunga's gorillas

by Kathrina Szymborski
Monday, June 4, 2018

Above: The author and others help a fellow hiker attacked by fire ants. Hikers wear masks to prevent the transmission of outside infection to the gorillas. Below: The world's last remaining mountain gorillas live in Congo's Virunga, Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, and Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, at an altitude of 2,195 to 4,300 meters. Credit: Bottom: Frances Lewis; top: Tom Bradley,

Every day, Virunga rangers bring up to eight visitors to see one of six semi-habituated gorilla families. Hikers stumble through dense jungle along a narrow path forged with machetes, warding off excruciating fire ant attacks and trying to avoid stinging nettle. My traveling companion Frances can attest to the horror of the fire ants. When we visited the gorillas after hiking the volcano, she stepped on an ant mound. It took three of us 20 minutes to pick off all the ants, some an inch long with pincers up to a third the length of their bodies. Some East African communities, including the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania, use them as natural sutures.

The gorillas pay their guests little attention. Occasionally a baby will attempt to engage someone in a game. Sometimes a young female will emerge from the leaves and gently shove aside a visitor who happens to be blocking her path. Every so often the silverback will screech out a warning to someone who has approached too close to its family. But for the most part, the gorillas are content to go about their slow and sometimes tender business of eating, playing, grooming and sleeping.

Visiting the gorillas costs $400. It’s expensive, but worth every penny. Almost the entire fee goes to conservation. Visit for more information.

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