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In search of gorillas in the Ugandan rainforest


4 November 2016 News

A new programme allows visitors to spend hours alongside the animals in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

It normally takes four or five hours at most to locate a family of gorillas in the glistening, livid-green mountain rainforests of western Uganda. For me, it took 32 years.

As a student, back in 1984, I found myself hitchhiking through the then troubled central African country when I heard tell of a man expert at tracking the rare and elusive mountain gorillas. There were probably no more than 400 in existence, secreted in the virtually impenetrable jungles that traverse the volcano-ridged landscape along the borders between Uganda, Rwanda and what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I had somehow located this pioneer of gorilla tracking, mainly by word of mouth, and he had agreed to the expedition. His name slipped my memory years ago. I stayed in his hut one night and early the next morning we set off, at blistering pace, together with an assistant carrying a rickety old rifle. After several hours we entered the undergrowth, the guide hacking a path with his machete.

Inside the forest tangle, we followed as he looked intently for clues. He would stop abruptly to sniff the air, scan the ground and scour the canopied treetops. Occasionally, his eyes would twinkle. He would look at me intently and whisper “gorilla droppings” or “gorilla nest” and we would plunge into the foliage with renewed urgency. After an entire day of slithering and slogging up and down the mountainside, hopes raised and then dashed and raised again, our guide intoned the dreadful words, “No gorilla today.” We slumped off home.

The experience, exhilarating if ultimately disappointing, was to form the material for my first newspaper article, a modest personal triumph that launched my life in journalism. I revealed at the article’s conclusion that, judging by the tracker’s guest book, his success rate was less than good. Guest after guest reported they had been unlucky. The article was entitled “Gorilla Tomorrow.”

Thirty-two years later, I am back in Uganda to finish what I started.

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