Now that's a new age father if ever I saw one! And if I were a gorilla baby I too might stick my tongue out at humans who have certainly lost the planetary plot!
Gorilla beringei beringei -- The Hirwa Silverback: Those eyes are filled with expression and convey a sensitivity that many humans seem to have lost.
Massive in size, yet gentle in demeanor this silverback groomed a gorilla infant for over ten minutes. If a gorilla mother dies, the silverback will probably adopt the little one, even allowing it to sleep in the nest that each gorilla builds to rest up every night.
I am the furthest thing from religious, but sitting in the presence of these magnificent, strong, gentle, civilised creatures... was one of my most spiritual experiences when all seemed well with the world.
As with most primates play-aggression is part of the preparation for later life. These two youngsters' roughhousing antics went on for almost ten minutes. When the silverback got up and moved, the youngsters stopped their games instantly.
The fecundity of the gorilla forest was to be seen to be believed. Green plants were sprouting everywhere. Every available surface was moss-laden. As we walked the ground underfoot was squishy. This was a forest for life.
This was not even a forest guard. He was an armed guide who accompanied our group of eight trekkers. The rifle was to scare away a buffalo or elephant that we stumbled upon closer than was considered safe. But if I was a poacher, I would choose to keep my distance for sure. By comparison, the lathi-wielding Indian forest guard is anything but a dissuasion for well armed poachers. And our guides? Few if any have the authority to even keep the tourists they are responsible for in check, leave alone act as a dissuasion for poachers.
The Volcanoes National Park, abode of mountain gorillas, presents a magical canvas as the sun goes down and mists shroud the peaks like cotton candy.
Before we entered their domain, extremely competent guides introduced us to the gorilla family into whose domain we were about to step. Mountain gorillas have thicker, longer fur than lowland gorillas, which is why they are able to colonise colder climes. Nose prints can help to identify gorillas the way our fingerprints can identify us.
This was the gorilla family into whose domain we stepped on our second walk up the mountain.
No one entered the gorilla's domain without a proper, ten minute briefing, which informed visitors about how to behave in the presence of the great apes and also about the history and family tree of the group we were about to visit.
Each main guide had a junior guide so that knowledge and experience were passed on. Only after two years as an assistant can someone become a guide.
A simple rubble wall keeps livestock out of the potato fields and demarcates the boundary of the gorilla habitat.
The silverback assumes the position! He is the boss and everyone knows it. With luck he will live a full life, probably till he is around 35 years old, but may be displaced from the top position before that by a stronger silverback who will then take over the females in the group.
What a character! What a stance! That knuckle walk can be astonishingly fast. These mountain gorillas have been isolated from eastern lowland gorillas for about 400,000 years.
This guy was sitting peacefully, when suddenly the larger silverback threatened him. In a flash he made a getaway, which would probably have involved a knuckle walk if it were not for this large bamboo stalk lying in his path. In the event, I was clicking away... the bamboo was cast aside as the huge gorilla stood on both feet, still moving forward as can be seen in the next frame.
Having thrown the stout bamboo stalk aside (it was still in his left hand here!) the silverback returned to a fast knuckle-walk, brushing past me (I was standing) and knocking me to the ground. Not for a second was I in any danger... just in the way.
Just a simple slice of gorilla life... nothing dramatic... just very real, peaceful... beautiful.
After brushing against me this huge fellow started walking purposefully towards two French visitors who were blissfully unaware of his presence. The guides knew they were in no danger and were, in fact, worried that they might panic and scare the silverback into behaving unpredictably. Gautam and Kavita to the right of the silverback did exactly the right thing by giving the big guy his space.
Whoops! Where did he come from, they seem to be saying!
To the soothing advice of our guide: "Please don't run... just stay where you are, move just a foot to your right..." the moment passed. The silverback went his way and French hearts soon began beating normally. In the blue jacket we see Rajiv, Kavita's husband.
A gorilla mother and her infant. She will nurse her young one for as long as three years and will care and protect it for some years after. The fact that the whole family treats young ones as their own greatly enhances survival success.
This mother had twins, a relatively rare phenomenon for gorillas. Infant mortality is high, something like 38% up to the age of three years and much higher for twins.
Th hour we spent in the company of this gorilla family went by in a flash. For a while no one spoke as we reluctantly tore ourselves away for the long trek back. Rwanda ensures that the gorillas are not exposed to more than one hour a day of (very discipliined) visitors. India could (SHOULD!) take a cue from Rwanda on how to marry tourism and conservation. Part of the trekking fee each of us paid (US$ 500... now raised to $750) goes to the communities living nearby and the rest goes to the protection of the gorillas and their forest home.
As if to remind us who really maintains the gorilla forest, we came upon this tiny frog just outside the national park.
The next day we embarked on a (much tougher) chimp trek. This guy stayed his distance and we only saw him and his (her?) mate way up on the canopy. Notice the mouth stuffed with fruit!
With both hands needed to negotiate branches almost 30 metres high, it made sense to transport the fruit in the mouth!
Not a caterpillar... just a plant on the forest floor that was probably designed to look inedible.
Dwarfed by a magnificent forest, I felt at home in a forest that was older that human existence.
Sometimes I wish I could magically understand and interpret the mysteries of nature. Insects, plants, birds and mammals live in synch... each now dependent on the other. We are the only animal in the world that has stepped out of line and will probably pay the price.
Bee boxes outside the national park area helps communities harvest the forest without disturbing it. Again... India could take a cue from Rwanda on this front (not on the eucalyptus, tea and coffee fronts!) by ensuring that communities are benefited without in anyway intruding on the forest.
A Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird / Stuhlmann's Sunbird (Cinnyris stuhlmanni) soaks in... what else... the sun, soon after a tropical downpour.
In the canopy, above even the emergent layer, the world looks different... clean, alive, throbbing with life. I saw squirrels, butterflies, birds, and flowers of all descriptions. These are the canopies that feed the world... the ones that cash seekers trash in their haste to convert the planet to private wealth.
I am not afraid of heights, but the casual, professional ease with which this guy climbed over the edge to maintain this walkway 70 metres above the forested valley had me totally transfixed.
India could learn a thing or two from Rwanda tourism. Walking paths allow people to experience the forest intimately. The damage caused by cutting the paths will be quickly repaired by mosses, ferns, leaves and micro-orginisms... provided some Indian genius in search of a lucrative contract does not try to use cement or tar on walking paths.