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Adventures in Gorillas: Congo~Style

Mathematically speaking, I’m not sure if one can have a Once-In-A-Lifetime experience more than once in a lifetime, but we did. A year ago this month, we had the incredible opportunity to float the Grand Canyon. 12 days, 188 miles, 75 rapids, 0 showers, one near death experience, and one horrendous scorpion sting later, it was hard to imagine any adventure could top that.

[“INSERT ONE CLASSIC PICTURE OF THE FLOAT TRIP HERE.”  Note from Randy, the newly hired photo editor: “These were Babette’s instructions to me – sorry – no can do! Telling a geologist to put in one ‘classic picture’ of a 12 day float trip through the Grand Canyon – right. So, following are what I consider the minimally acceptable number of photos to warrant even mentioning floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.”]

[Now back to the blogpost in progress.]

But now we’re not so sure that adventure couldn’t be topped.

Under a hundred miles from home, (but two border crossings away), Kahuzi-Biega National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is home to the rare Eastern Lowland Gorillas. In fact, this is the only known habitat of this endangered species. (The gorillas in nearby Rwanda, made famous by Dian Fossey, are mountain gorillas.) And for a very small amount of trouble (and not near as much money as in Rwanda), you can hike through the jungle, following a guide hacking a path with a machete, and see these gorillas. As in Up. Close. And. Personal. And honestly, words fail me. So I shall allow the pictures to paint a thousand words:

Here we are, the intrepid adventurers, with our guide in the background:33-RDM Canon Congo-149

After maybe a thirty minute hike through the jungle, this was the first sight we saw: a mother tenderly caressing her nine-day-old baby:24-RDM Canon Congo-074

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These aren’t as good because they’re from my camera, not Randy’s good one, but check out that precious little hand:

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There were teenagers playing nearby here, beating their chests in classic gorilla style (for real), but we didn’t get photos of them because we couldn’t take our eyes off this mama.14-RDM Canon Congo-041

She was so unconcerned that we were there–not at all how I would imagine a wild animal would be, especially a mother. This is one of three troops, or families, (each family consisting of one male, called a silverback, with multiple females and kids of all ages) in the park that are, according to the ranger, “habituated”. Habituated families are accustomed to being around humans, which is good for humans, which in turn is good for tourism, which supports the park and the work of conservation of this endangered species, so it’s a win-win for all.13-RDM Canon Congo-03912-RDM Canon Congo-036

Here’s one of the few shots we captured of the toddlers:11-RDM Canon Congo-033

This picture is no exaggeration; we were right there. There was no such thing as maintaining the seven meter distance recommendation.

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At nine days old, this baby couldn’t even crawl or walk yet. I love the toddler cuddling too.06-RDM Canon Congo-025

Here you can see it was a really big group we were interacting with. Simply indescribable.04-RDM Canon Congo-022

Parents sometimes post an incredibly large number of photos of their precious children…is this overkill? Just one last one of mother and child:03-RDM Canon Congo-020

Although we were supposed to be limited to one hour in total in the jungle, we probably spent a whole hour watching that group. As they moved on, we resumed our trek through the densely packed jungle, following our machete wielding guide, in search of the silverback. We smelled him first, then heard him, before we came around a bend into a clearing to see this guy a few feet away.27-RDM Canon Congo-079

Gorillas have to spend a large amount of time eating, so not minding us at all, he proceeded on with his lunch.  23-RDM Canon Congo-065

After very efficiently de-leafing a few small branches, (he’d make a great sous chef when you’re trying to get the cilantro leaves off the stem) and with no ackowledgement of us whatsoever, he sauntered on to his next dining spot.

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We followed him from spot to spot for almost an hour. Words cannot describe this experience. He is a magnificent animal. It’s not hard to see how he gets his name, silverback.

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And then, just like that, he sauntered off, and we headed back to the park welcome center, having survived an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Friends here have called this ‘the greatest adventure you never want to do again’. I’d go back in a heartbeat.





12 thoughts on “Adventures in Gorillas: Congo~Style

    1. Jill, I think the pygmy guides who work in the park know EVERYTHING about these gorillas–where they are every day, what and when they eat, if they’re sick, and certainly when they give birth. It’s an amazing place.


      1. I totally meant to address the mask-wearing in the blog but I forgot. Everyone wears a mask to prevent transmission of germs–in both directions–gorillas to humans and humans to gorillas. Kili and ‘the big five’ are just over a month away!! So excited!!


  1. You are the LUCKIEST, most adventurous person I have yet to meet! You should write a book, Babette McQueen!!!!! Stay safe my friend!


  2. Wow, love seeing the silverback! Years ago I read Michael Crichton’s “Congo”
    about the silverback gorillas. I recognized that big guy immediately. I think it was a movie too. Anyway, you are living one of my fantasies. All you have to do is see some elephants and giraffes. Enjoying your blog immensely. Great pictures!


  3. Thanks for sharing all those amazing pics! I showed the kids today and they thought it was awesome!! It then turned into an hour long adventure of learning more about gorillas & Bujumbura . . . Miss you!!


  4. I so enjoy your posts to get a glimpse of your adventures from afar. What an incredible opportunity to do this! The pictures are priceless!!!


  5. Wow, wow, WOW! I’ve been looking forward to catching up on your blog for some time. Randy told us about this adventure, but the pictures bring it to life. I can’t tell you how jealous I am – this is incredible!!


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