Monday, June 15, 2009

Meeting the Susas

Parc des Volcans, Rwanda
May 16th, 2009

We were lucky enough to meet one of Rwanda’s most prestigious families- the Susas. The Susas first came to fame thanks to Dian Fossey who originally habituated them several decades ago. This family is the largest of the gorilla families in East Africa and has 40 members. It is also the only family to have successfully raised twins (usually at least one twin dies).

In order to meet them you have to hike in the forest alongside a guide and tracker. You also have armed guards. We were told that these guards were in case we met some buffalo along the way leading Karel to ask “Does that make them Buffalo Soldiers?” – no one got the joke. As it is bamboo shoot season the gorillas head to the lower part of the mountain so luckily we didn’t have to trek very long before we reached the family as it’s very humid and steep in the forest.

Two hours of walking later we spotted them. It was nothing short of amazing. The first one we saw was still in his nest on the tree top and as we rounded the corner we spotted four more. It was brilliant. There were two younger gorillas that were super curious about us. For health and safety reasons (I know health and safety in Africa?) we weren’t allowed to touch or let the gorillas touch us. We share 70% of our make-up with gorillas and apparently that means any disease is contagious, although it can manifest with different symptoms. Anyways these two small gorillas kept creeping closer and closer so our guide had to keep shooing them away by moving branches to scare them off. The curiosity behind those gorillas’ eyes was intense.

We trekked another hundred metres and came across the rest of the group. It was brilliant timing as they were having their ‘social time’. Everyone was on the ground. We saw the gorillas eating, grooming each other, playing with each other, banging their chests- it was amazing.

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