Touched by a Gorilla


Female member of the Rushegura Group of Mountain Gorillas touches John J. King II as Silverback keeps watch, Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011/John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Female member of the Rushegura Group of Mountain Gorillas touches John J. King II as Silverback keeps watch, Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011/John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

First, thanks to Janel Bladow for forwarding this video.

The story: Nature photographers and conservationists Pam King and John J. King II, the pale-skinned primate above, traveled to Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with friend and eco-travel guide Jonathan Rossouw last December in hopes of seeing the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, of which there are only about 800 remaining in Uganda and Rwanda.

The Kings had permits allowing them to stay for three days and were assigned to local trackers who aren’t named but who get all the credit for not only finding the gorillas but helping to protect them and doing the hard work of habituating them to humans by spending hours upon days upon weeks upon months quietly in their presence.

Visitor permits cost about $500 a day. Tourists may have to hike for six hours or more over challenging terrain. Sightings are not guaranteed, and if gorillas are found, humans must stay 20 feet away and can observe them for only one hour. Unless, of course, the gorillas come to the people….

Rushegura Group arrives at Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Rushegura Group arrives at Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

That’s what happened to the Kings. After locating one troop of gorillas — the Habinyaja Group — on their first day and another troop — the Rushegura Group — on their second day, they awoke in camp on the third day to find that the Rushegura Group had walked for about three hours to visit them — that this time, as John King put it, the gorillas had tracked the humans.

Rushegura Group arrives at Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Rushegura Group arrives at Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

The images above link to a 5:52-minute, music-added version of the video Jonathan Rossouw shot of this astonishing encounter, which, thrilling as it was for John King especially and harmless as it turned out to be for all involved, some conservationists wish hadn’t happened (it has happened before) and would rather not see happen again — out of concern for the gorillas as much as the people. Among other things, as Craig Sholley of the African Wildlife Foundation told National Geographic, gorillas are susceptible to human diseases.

Still, when an encounter like this one does happen, as King says in the video, it’s “absolutely thrilling.” See for yourself. To view the video with music, click on any of the images above, or click here or click the image below.

Female member of the Rushegura Group of Mountain Gorillas gives John King a kiss as Silverback keeps watch, Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Female member of the Rushegura Group of Mountain Gorillas gives John King a kiss as Silverback keeps watch, Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Viewing the video without music is even better. It gives you a purer sense of events as they occurred. Like the primates involved, you get to hear the sounds of the morning mountain forest, the quietness of the gorillas, the Silverback’s soft grunts. You hear Jonathan Rossouw, behind the camera, guiding John King through the encounter by describing to him what’s happening that King can’t see. And you hear King’s reactions during the encounter and after the gorillas move away. (Note that when the Silverback moves, all members of his family move, too. Watch how quietly vigilant and protective he is throughout.)

To see the video without music, click here or click the image below.

Rushegura Group’s Silverback signals to his family that its time to leave, Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011/ John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Rushegura Group’s Silverback signals to his family that its time to leave, Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011/ John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

You can also view the video with and without music on Pam and John King’s Common Flat Project blog page. Keep scrolling past the videos to read more of what John King has to say about this experience.

• To learn more about Pam and John King’s Common Flat Project, click here.

• To learn more about Jonathan Rossouw, who videotaped the encounter, click here.

• To learn more about Rossouw’s  next trip to Uganda in June, click here.

• To learn more about Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, click here.

Rushegura Group leaves Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

Rushegura Group leaves Gorilla Forest Camp, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, Dec 11, 2011 / John J. King II, Pam King, Jonathan Rossouw, Zegrahm Expeditions, Common Flat Project, YouTube.com

 More soon!

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One Response to Touched by a Gorilla

  1. Wynn Malvern says:

    The last time I was touched that tenderly by something that was so potentially dangerous and weighed several hundred pounds was…well, uh, never mind. Thanks for this incredible footage. It makes me eager to also get to Rwanda one day to be similarly embraced by some of our hairy, curious little genetic cousins…rather than just wait for the holidays to roll around here.

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