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Rwanda gorillas

09:00 AEST Thu Jun 10 2010
The Republic of Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in Africa's east-central Great Lakes Region. Its infamous 1994 genocide resulted in the deaths of as many as 1 million people in as few as 100 days. It has a long and tragic history of conflict, violence and serial genocide.

Known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda's natural beauty defies its tragic history.

The all-important tourist spotlight is shining on the misty mountains to the north of the country and Jules Lund headed north-west from Kigali, the capital, to the Volcanoes National Park.

It borders Virunga National Park in the Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and is a haven for the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Their demise has been caused through all the usual reasons — habitat loss, poaching, human disease and war. These days they are most in danger due to habitat destruction.

In 1967 Volcanoes National Park became the base for the American naturalist, Dr Dian Fossey, where she carried out her gorilla research. She set up between Karisimbi and Bisoke, and her efforts are credited with saving the gorillas from extinction. In 1985 she was murdered by unknown assailants, and she is buried in the park in a grave close to her favourite silverback gorilla, Digit.

Once Jules and his group reached the end of the road, porters were on hand to help carry the gear.

Jules was concerned to see men with AK-47s following them and was relieved they were there for protection against buffalo and elephants.

While best known for the mountain gorilla, other fascinating mammals living there are golden monkey, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, elephants, spotted hyena and bushbuck.

The first couple of kilometres are easygoing through lush, terraced farmland of the lower slopes which gradually become steeper and rockier. Vegetation becomes thick and tangled and enormous trees, vines and undergrowth add to the challenge. Guides use machetes to clear a path, and you never know if you will be on a half-hour walk or hiking for an arduous five hours.

Tour guide Francis was in constant radio contact with trackers further up the mountain. Their job is to monitor gorilla groups day and night and keep everyone on the right path. Jules found it very moving to be following in the footsteps of Dr Dian Fossey.

Gorilla droppings are the first hint you are getting close to a hiding spot and the group's adrenaline pumped as they knew they were a hair's breadth away from one of the world's greatest travel experiences.

Damage to bamboo is another sign the animals aren't far away. They feast on tender shoots and suck sap from older stems. You will hear loud crashes and thuds and catch wafts of their unmistakable odour when you are very close.

New dad Jules was particularly charmed by the toddlers, which are just like humans only hairier. They play all day but when they realised the large spectators weren't their mother or father, they began grunting. The best thing to do is grunt back! They touch and pinch each other and have no qualms and that gives a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Rules dictate that you should not be any closer than 7m so human germs aren't passed on, but no-one has told that to the gorillas and their curiosity leads them closer to you. Any fear of being close to 200kg wild animals soon gave way to a peaceful feeling of sitting in the lounge room with distant cousins.

Guides communicate with the group through a series of grunts, which reassures the silverback and establishes subservience. It also gauges the mood of the group that day and that influences how much you are able to do.

They live in groups ranging from 14 to 40 and life revolves around family. They show expressions of love, humour, aggression, curiosity and intelligence.

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East-central Africa.


Peregrine Adventures has nine-day Primates of Rwanda tours out of Kigali. They cost $5310 per person twin-share and include local tour leader, gorilla guides and trekking permit, game activities, park entry fees, most meals and transfers. They run between June and March.

For further information

Peregrine Adventures
Ph: 1300 854 500

For further information

The Africa Safari Co.
1020 Forest Road
Lugarno 2210
Ph: (02) 95840520 or 1800 659 279
Fax: (02) 95840521

Visas: Passport with at least six months' validity, visa and return tickets are all required.
Electricity:220V at 50Hz.
Time zone: GMT +2.
Currency: Rwanda franc (RWF)
Telephone code: +250.

It is recommended travellers to Rwanda see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctorFor further information, visit

User comments
Just a spectacular segment. The kids loved it! Could watch it again and again! Great show, keep up the great work!

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