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Many people think of mountain gorillas as being untouchable or something that should provoke a fight or flight response if encountered in the wild. They are anything but.
In Rwanda, people treasure a visit with the endangered silverback mountain gorillas, which are surprisingly playful and relaxed in the presence of humans.
Praveen Moman, owner of the Volcanoes Safaris tour company, is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Rwanda’s Virunga eco-luxury lodge. Mr. Moman blends luxury accommodations, eco-tourism and community service in his Volcanoes Safaris Co. “You can’t just build luxury, you have to connect with the community, however big or small,” he says
Guests to the lodge sign up for a two-hour hike for a life-changing encounter with a gorilla family in the Volcanoes National Park. A percentage of proceeds from Volcanoes Safaris tourism dollars is allocated toward community outreach in the surrounding villages, which include beehive initiatives, agricultural support and education.
Rwanda is called “the land of a thousand hills,” a green undulating landscape of crops, gardens and tea plantations. The country is also home to a third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, which attracts Rwanda’s largest tourism impact.
Hikes into the Volcanoes National Park starts with a brief orientation, where groups of eight are guided up the volcano with the assistance of a tracker, guide and porter. Depending on where the group starts their hike, trekkers may encounter fields of pyrenium crops, which are used by East Africans as a natural insecticide. During the hike (which could be muddy), the guide describes the surrounding flora, and how certain species are used as medicines by the indigenous Batwa tribes.
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.