UGANDAInside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
An arduous trek, machete-ing our way through luscious undergrowth and crouch-shuffling through tunnels of vibrant vines down into ravines, had the opposite effect than I predicted – it sent my heart soaring. We rambled all morning, tracking a family of gorillas who, in the dawn hours, had had an unexpected encounter and ensuing battle with an unknown group. They had fled, tearing their way lithely through their extant home. I revelled in the unpredictability of it all, knowing this was natures best show; the unknown.
The first moment I caught sight of a wild mountain gorilla was so exhilarating, it seemed reality shifted into dreaming. Had I jumped into a movie, or better yet, straight through a verdant portal into Diane Fossey’s novel? A tuft of blue-black fur poked through interlocking foliage, and what transported me was the sense of the creatures presence. It was powerfully apparent that this being had a complex and tangible life, it was integral to its environment, and this was their realm. We were simply transient visitors.
From high in an ancient sky-reaching tree, a younger member of the family shimmies down the trunk. “Look, look!” The ranger rasps in my ear pointing at the adolescent, his AK-47 leaning forwards on its cross body strap. As she turns and faces the opposite direction I catch sight of four tiny wrinkled fingers grasping a fist of fur. The rest of our party moves further into the forest towards the core of the family of gorillas, it was just me and two of the rangers left at the back. I still my myself, silencing even my breath, willing myself to dissolve into the fabric of the wild, to be the eye of the forest and one with my camera.
“..it came from somewhere outside of my own being, it originated in that tiny ape and deluged me with wonderment “
Suddenly the young mother swings rapidly from vine to gnarled vine with a crashing clatter of leaves and cracking of branches until she hangs, arms fully extended, a few feet off the ground. Her baby peers it’s head around the mother’s belly and stares directly into my eyes. For an infinitesimal second our eyes connect and I am lathered with her curiosity and innocence. I wasn’t projecting the feeling onto her, it came from somewhere outside of my own being, it originated in that tiny ape and deluged me with wonderment. Then the mother dropped to the ground and loped away disappearing into the weave of the impenetrable forest.
Jungle tingling with life, shivering with complexity and singing with vibrancy is exactly how it should be. Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks in Uganda make up just a tiny fraction of protected forest that once carpeted the Virunga mountains. The rangers and trackers are fervent in their passion for the forest, its inhabitants, and the communities that rely on the conservation of the protected land. Together with Uganda Wildlife authority, local comunities have turned bush-meat poachers into wildlife protecting soldiers through education and training. Local villages and comunities now benefit more from the protection of their unique wildlife and biodiversity than they do from poaching and black market animal trade. In one area ravaged by crop raiding elephants came up with the ingenious solution of placing honey bee hives along the perimiter of the jungle where it meets their feilds and connecting the hives with wire creating an invisible fence. When the elephants feel the desire to sneak into the fields and gorge on farmers corn crops, they trigger the wire which distrubs the bees who come swarming out of their hives, chasing the peckish herd back into the saftey of their wild home. This has saved countless elephant and human lives, the farmers maintain their crop yeild whilst elephants avoid being shot by angry farmers who just want to protect their livelihood, and their families.
(To find out more about this go to https://www.raisingthevillage.org/stop-an-elephant-with-a-bee/).
I feel grateful, humbled and inspired to have been able to contribute in a small way to such passionate work to preserve our beautiful planet by trekking with gorillas in Bwindi.