Bwindi Impenetrable Forest hold many endemic birds but our main target was Mountain Gorillas.
From Mburo Lake Nation Park we drove toward The Congo. More accurately we drove toward the corner of Uganda nestled between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. For me, the Congo seems like one of the most remote and mysterious places on Earth. I was captivated by the idea that we’d be looking over the border into The Congo.
As we drove toward Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, volcanic mountains in The Congo loomed in the distance. Like Bwindi, these volcanic mountains have Mountain Gorillas. The hillside in the foreground was typical of the landscape in Uganda for all areas not protected in parks.
As we drove along, the bush country of Mburo gave way to lush hills and then low mountains. Unfortunately, native forest has been almost entirely removed from areas outside of national parks and reserves. The landscape is green and pleasant with areas divided into small agricultural plots, but it is not natural. It took all day to drive to the Gorilla lodge. We went to bed that night, only a 10 minute drive from the shelter where gorilla tours start.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest rises from the edge of a village. Local people gain a huge benefit from tourism centered about gorilla trips so they are now cheerleaders for preservation of the park and gorillas.
Ecotourism has become essential for the conservation of Mountain Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and many other animals that depend on large blocks of undisturbed habitat. As dramatized in the movie, Gorillas in the Mist, it was Diane Fossey who first habituated groups of Mountain Gorillas to humans. Uganda now has nearly 20 families of Mountain Gorillas habituated to people, so they can be visited. The conservation biologists who oversee this operation allow eight tourists to visit a band of gorillas for one hour each day, and so far as I know, there have been no incidents of tourists harming gorillas or vice verse. Gorilla permits are $700 per person, so with eight people per gorilla group and more than a dozen gorilla groups out every day, that is significant revenue. But those direct revenues from gorilla trekking fees are just the start, because porters are given tips, everyone buys souvenirs, everyone stays at lodges and buys meals and drinks (all the lodges have well-stocked bars), and everyone hires a guide to take them around Uganda. Tourism, anchored by Gorilla trips, in one of the biggest industries in Uganda.
During our gorilla tour, we got to sit for an hour with a family of Mountain Gorillas. Were were only a few yards away from the big 400 lb silverback male as he ate his breakfast and then the big guy walked right past us to go sit with one of his females.
Unfortunately, I was dealing with an unsettled stomach on the morning of the gorilla trip. I made it in and out to see the gorillas and really enjoyed the experience, but I was a bit distracted by nausea and light-headedness. Our group got on gorillas within 30 minutes of hiking into the forest and we were out by 11am. Another group spent 8 hours tracking gorillas before they got to sit with them. These are wild animals that roam in search of food and everyone is warned that you can miss them entirely if luck is not with you. That apparently only happens about 2% of the time, however.
After the gorilla trip, I was feeling poorly so I took the rest of the day off and mostly slept in the room. The next day I felt better, and we did a hike along the edge of the impenetrable forest. Johnnie showed us many new and hard-to-find forest birds in just a couple of hours hike including Mackinnon's Shrike, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Regal Sunbird, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, and Kandt's Waxbill.
White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher
Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher