In order to study gorillas, researchers need to be close to them. Habituating gorillas involves following them nearly daily for many years to get them used to humans. It is the tireless work of many dedicated scientists and Ba’aka trackers.
Habituated gorillas are still wild animals. They are just used to people being nearby. There are two groups of habituated gorillas at Mondika, our second stop in the park – Buka’s and Kingo’s group.We started our transfer to the Mondika camp by truck, and continued our luck by nearly colliding with a family of gorillas on the way. We then hiked in for 3 hours, traversing a flooded forest.We got completely soaked when it started to downpour halfway through the trek. The skies cleared on our arrival however, and we were immediately whisked off to follow Buka’s group for our first up close gorilla encounter.First, there is a surreal feeling as you watch this hulking creature, Buka, glide effortlessly through the jungle, surrounded by his family. There is a rush as an incredibly noble, beautiful, powerful (500 lbs of pure muscle), wild animal looks you in the eye. That is followed by a connection, as you slowly come to realize he is not a threat, and as you recognize so many similar behaviors and characteristics between yourself and the gorillas.Gorillas live in groups led by one male silverback and multiple females. There are usually a number of juveniles from infants up to teenagers. Silverbacks can acquire new females from other gorilla groups through shows of strength, or fighting. Or females may just decided to leave. We were told females prefer a silverback with a nice ass.Buka had acquired a new woman, and his new lady friend was not habituated. She kept yelling at him to do something about us, so he would occasionally face us down, which made for an exciting visit (likelihood of him actually doing anything was very low).After spending the afternoon with Buka, we got to know the researchers over dinner- Bayanga (the site manager), David and Stevie (research assistants), and Sydney. Sydney is a botanist, and spoke excellent English. He taught us a lot of interesting things about ficus trees…And fungi which can invade insects’ brains and grow out of their head like a mushroom. Apparently, seeing one of these in the jungle means someone will give you money. (NB the picture below is from the Internet, we didn’t actually spot one)