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Many people think of gorillas as something to flee from if encountered in the wild. They are anything but! In Rwanda, tourists visit the endangered silverback mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park on a daily basis. Whether it is their nature or because they see humans so often, the gorillas appear utterly relaxed in the presence of people.
The Volcanoes Safaris company organizes daily expeditions into the Volcanoes National Park to encounter members of these 10 families of gorillas. After hiking an hour or two alongside capable rangers, you will encounter a gorilla family in a clearing: grooming, playing and eating as if they never noticed the arrival of curious human onlookers.
I followed my tracker to encounter the lead silverback gorilla in his glory as a baby gorilla groomed him. Without warning, another baby gorilla walked up to me and tentatively placed his hand on my leg. The guide shooed him away gently with an oomp, oomp. Unthreatened, the gorillas will come down from their perches and rub past you as they seek delicious stalks of bamboo.
Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.