A Special Encounter in Bwindi

One of my enduring memories of gorilla tracking at Bwindi was when we approached a nursing mother gorilla with her infant. The infant was busily nursing with her mother. I started taking pictures. 

My heart was pounding with excitement – so much so that I thought my heart would burst thru my chest to be observing such a scene. Anyone who would witness such an interaction at such close range would feel the connection across time and space to these beautiful forest inhabitants. I was grateful that I was shooting digital. I could confirm that I was getting the image.

I recalled in that instant the anguish that Nat Geo photographer Mike Nichols described when he photographed his most famous film photo of the chimpanzee reaching out and touching Jane Goodall’s light blond hair ­ he was shooting film in those days and he just didn’t know, couldn’t know, at that instant whether he was getting the shot or not. Of course, he did get the shot, and we humans now have that magnificent interaction in that fleeting instant preserved forever.

Watching the mother nursing, there was an absolute ‘peer to peer’ emotional connection between us. However, the click click click of my camera distracted the nursing infant who fidgeted and turned its head to look at the clicking camera. The mamma glared at me (as you can see in this photo) and I got a look from her with which I was well familiar… as if to say ‘Ok if you have to take your pictures go ahead, but make it fast and then leave us alone, can’t you see I am nursing my baby and you are disturbing my baby?!?!?’.

I very definitely did not want to get the nearby silverback angry or in any way have him misinterpret my intentions (this would have not been a good career move…) so, of course, I stopped photographing immediately. At least until Mamma and baby were finished, at which point I resumed my photography!

by Gary Lehman