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Thursday, 10 November 2005 13:55

ON THE GORILLA TRAIL WITH NNABAGEREKA

Nov 10, 2005
Author: Lillian Nsubuga, Guest Writer, The Weekly Observer

Torrential rains the previous night ensured that Saturday, October 15 started off gloomy, with a persistent drizzle that depressed the soul.

The usual morning forest sounds were drowned by the noise of fast running water in the jungle. The more you listened, the more you longed for a few extra hours in the warm bed.


The Nnabagereka and Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, CTPH Founder and CEO (front) in pursuit of the gorillas in Bwindi.

But it was not to be, for at 7 a.m., we were expected for a briefing before embarking on a gorilla tracking expedition in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. One of the trackers was the elegant Nnabagereka of Buganda, Sylvia Nagginda, who was on her maiden visit to the park, thanks to Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), a local NGO that works with communities in Bwindi. The Nnabagereka is its patron. The previous day, the Buganda queen had been chief guest at the launch of the CTPH-owned community tele-centre, the first of its kind in the area.

Chief Warden John Bosco Nuwe warned against littering in the forest, and advised us to carry enough water, some lunch and to hire porters to carry the bags.

Wearing confident smiles, the trackers, who also included the Buganda Minister for the Royal Treasury, Apollo Makubuya, the Minister for Women Affairs, Apollonia Lugemwa and CTPH Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Gladys Kalema Zikusoka, appeared keen to set off.

The Nnabagereka was calm. Head cocked to the left and arms folded across her bosom, she listened attentively to the chief warden's advice. Once in a while, she smiled, like when the chief warden requested the trackers to look away from the gorillas when sneezing to protect them from the bug. Apparently, flu is a serious health risk for these gentle giants.

As the gloomy morning got brighter, a small crowd formed on the roadside, with the locals jostling for a glimpse of the Nnabagereka. She waved to them now and then.

The Habinyanja (gorilla) family, which we were to track, was quite a distance from the starting point. We we would begin with a 40-minute drive through the villages, disembark at a certain spot and trek up and down a couple of hills for two hours before finding the much sought-after treasure.

When we got out of the vehicles to embark on the long trek, the smiles melted from the faces as it became clear this wasn't going to be easy. There was a big hill ahead, and we were informed that we hadn't seen anything yet.

The trudge uphill began in silence. We moved in single file, with the Nnabagereka at the head. When the initial shock of having to climb such huge hills finally wore off, people started throwing barbs here and there. Initially, the Nnabagereka mostly remained silent, only asking an occasional question. "Lillian, how many times have you done this?" she asked as I took pictures of her.

"This is my third time," I replied and gave a brief recount of my previous experiences. She didn't say much in response, so I don't know if she was impressed or not. The climb was getting tougher. We were panting and sweating. We had covered the first hour of tracking, which, by Bwindi standards, was quite easy since we were still outside the forest.

The story was different when we entered the forest. It was dark, the ground was soft and slippery, the trail was strewn with thick foliage, prickly plants were all over the place and everything was wet.

The Nnabagereka kept the atmosphere lively with interesting revelations, like when she announced that she had climbed Mt Everest.

"Oh!" "Ah!" "Really?" "Wow!" The other trackers were incredulous. "Yes, I did," she responded with a glint in her eyes. "In her dreams!" shouted minister Makubuya from the back, prompting bouts of laughter from the rest of us on realising she was only pulling our legs.

We had gone over the first and second hills, and were soon tackling the third. Everybody was exhausted. It was drizzling again and ever more people were slipping to the ground. Interestingly, only the Nnabagereka, who was ever so careful before taking a step, managed to stay on her feet.

When we finally found the gorillas, the Nnabagereka went silent. Other trackers rushed forward to watch and take pictures of the gorillas, but the Nnabagereka lingered at the back until I went and got her by the hand. But when one of the male gorillas, Biyindo, stood to his full height as he reached out for a tree branch, the Nnabagereka stopped in her tracks and stared in awe at the gorilla's massive size.

The gorillas ignored us, and easily went about their business of feeding and playing with their young, oblivious to the royal intrusion. Once in a while, they sat still and looked into our cameras as if posing for a photo. Tracking rules allow tourists to stay with the gorillas for just one hour, and during that time, the cameras never stop clicking. No wonder, these gentle giants appear to have learnt to pose for the camera. Chewing leaves, playing with their young, climbing trees, looking into the cameras, fighting, expressing love, we saw it all and it was simply unforgettable.

Mike Hutchinson, a journalist from South Africa, said he had never seen anything like that before. "They are so peaceful and yet very active!" he said in amazement. The Nnabagereka described it in the visitors' book as "an experience out of this world that I would love to repeat although not so soon."

"Next time I will be more prepared; I will do exercises for at least a month in advance," she said. She confessed that initially, she was scared of running into huge snakes. "But with time I was convinced there weren't any." Apollo Makubuya said he would gladly go back to Bwindi, although he wouldn't go gorilla tracking again. "I will busy myself at the hotel," he declared.

The gorilla tracking expedition lasted eight hours, and by the time we returned to the park headquarters to receive our certificates, we could hardly carry our legs. It had been tough, but terrific. The Bwindi communities are already asking us when the Nnabagereka will return. Well, we just have to keep our fingers crossed.

TRACKING GORILLAS

- Foreign tourists are charged 0 for a gorilla permit, while Ugandans are charged Ush100, 000 (about ) for a gorilla permit. This is meant to encourage Ugandans to visit the gorillas.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has many hotels and camps offering accommodation at varying prices; from a 0 per night room to a Ush10, 000 per night room. Meals are also charged accordingly.
- There are supermarkets, souvenir shops, cultural centres, and a telecentre that was recently launched by Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH).
- The telecentre enables tourists to share their Bwindi experiences with loved ones while still in the jungle.
- Hot meals and barbeques can be organised, while all types of drinks are available in all the hotels.
- It takes between 8 and 10 hours to Bwindi from Kampala by road, and slightly over an hour by air.

For more information contact:
The Reservations Office
Uganda Wildlife Authority
Tel: 256-41-355000, 355403 or 355400
Fax: 256-41-346291
Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Published in Articles

Gladys Kalema-ZikusokaB.Vet.Med., M.R.C.V.S. and Linda LowenstineD.V.M., Ph.D.

A juvenile female mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) of the Mubare tourist group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, developed a severe, complete rectal prolapse that did not spontaneously resolve. Eight months prior, a juvenile female mountain gorilla of the Mubare group developed a mild, complete rectal prolapse that resolved spontaneously within 24 hr. Field guides reported that spontaneously resolving prolapses had been seen previously in two other juveniles, one of which was from the Mubare group. The tissue became increasingly necrotic and maggot infested over the course of 1 wk. Surgical intervention involved amputation of the affected rectal tissues and suturing the viable portion to the anal sphincter muscle with simple interrupted absorbable sutures. The surgery was performed in the field in accordance with Uganda Wildlife Authority policies. Antibiotics and anthelmintics were administered systemically, and the gorilla returned to the group. The gorilla appeared to recover fully after 3 wk. Histology of the resected rectal tissue confirmed intense inflammation and necrosis with myiasis but did not reveal an underlying etiology.

Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 32(4): 509-513. 2001

Published in Latest Initiatives
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