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Rwanda Gorillas

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Republic of Rwanda is a small, landlocked country in Africa's east-central Great Lakes Region. Bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Congo and Tanzania, the fertile and hilly country has a population of around nine million, one of continental Africa's densest. Its increasing population, depleted soil fertility and unsteady climate make it a country where chronic malnutrition and poverty are widespread.

Rwanda lies on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift and the watershed between Africa's two largest river systems — the Nile and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Its infamous 1994 genocide resulted in the deaths of as many as one million people in as few as 100 days. It has a long and tragic history of conflict, violence and serial genocide.

Rwanda is known as The Land of a Thousand Hills and its natural beauty defies its tragic history of war and genocide.

Volcanoes National Park lies in north-western Rwanda. It borders Virunga National Park in the Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. It 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.

The Virunga Mountains are a chain of volcanoes stretching 80 kilometres and five of them — Karisimbi, Visoke, Gahinga, Sabinyo and Muhavura — which are covered in rainforest and bamboo, are in Rwanda. Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira in the Congo erupted as recently as 2006.

In 1967 the park became the base for the American naturalist, 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, Digit.

While best known for the mountain gorilla, other fascinating mammals living there are golden monkey, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, spotted hyena and bushbuck. There are some elephants in the park, but they are now very rare.

Peregrine Adventures have Primates of Rwanda tours. They start at Gorillas Nest, just 10 minutes from the Park headquarters where an early morning briefing is given by a warden and gorilla groups are allocated.

Trekkers leave there once word of the location of their group has been received; there are many potential starting points. It's a good idea to tuck trousers into boots or socks to keep ants and stinging nettles at bay. You will need a daypack with water and snacks — and it's nice to pack a little extra for your porter.

You will be accompanied by one or two trackers, several guards, a Peregrine guide and porters. There are eight permits for each gorilla group a day. You are allowed one hour of contact which begins as you enter the gorillas' area. This is strictly enforced. You will be coached in safety rules and body language as you go close to the gorilla troops.

The climb starts through the lush terraced farmland of the lower volcanic slopes. As the slopes become steeper and rockier, the vegetation becomes thick and tangled. Huge trees, clinging vines and undergrowth add to the challenge of swift streams and slippery red underfoot. Guides use machetes to clear a path.

At around 2450 metres, signs of the huge animals become apparent. Damage to bamboo is a good sign as they relish the young, tender shoots and suck the sap from older stems. The sound of loud crashes or dull reverberating thuds is also evidence of their being close, as is the waft of their strong and unmistakable odour.

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

Gorillas display remarkably human characteristics. They show expressions of love, humour, aggression and curiosity and family relationships are very important. There can be anything from 14 to 40 in a group and larger groups may split into smaller groups.

Trackers remain with the gorillas after everyone else has left. The return to town only after the creatures have made their nest for the night, and go back to the site early next morning. That way they can be located very quickly, as gorilla groups don't travel very far in one hit.

Location

East-central Africa.

Cost

Peregrine Adventures has seven day Primates of Rwanda tours. They start at around $3839 per person twin share and include accommodation, permits, special gorilla guides and most meals. They run in January, February and again between June and October.

Emirates has flights to Nairobi.

From Fare
Perth $2959
Melbourne $3096
Brisbane $3105
Sydney $3114
Adelaide $3676
Darwin $4371

Valid for sale and travel until March 31, 2007.

Connections to Kigali are available.

Prices correct at August 30, 2007

For more information

Peregrine Adventures
Ph: 1300854 500
Website: www.peregrineadventures.com

Emirates
Ph: 1300 303 777
Website: www.emirates.com

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 doctor. For further information visit: www.welltogo.com.au

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