Kingo of the Jungle

Although we’ve really enjoyed all of our time in Congo, it feels in a way that all the travel, the wildlife viewing from a distance, and camping in the jungle has all built towards a finale of gorilla trekking. These up close and intimate encounters were like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Jesse and I discussed how we felt after it was all over. I said that despite seeing lots of photos and videos of gorillas, there was no way to prepare for what it was like to be right in front of one, smelling him, making eye contact with him, interacting with him. The size of the silverback is also something that can’t possibly be transmitted or explained, nor the gorillas’ gentle presences and how human and yet not human they were, and I was deeply affected. I prompted Jesse to tell me what he felt: “Awe”. I pushed further: “what you said”. A man of few words.Anyways, we spent two days following Kingo’s group, which has been habituated for over 10 years.  This is Kingo.He sometimes likes to do yoga.And nap while leaning on trees.He tolerated our presence.Kingo’s group was really big (13 individuals, vs Buka’s 9). Here was a young infant, only 3 weeks old.And a 1 year old who keep annoying his brother by clapping, which prompted chest thumping, wrestling, and tree climbing battles.Sometimes though, he wanted to just sit with his momma, or cry if she didn’t feel like carrying him.The gorillas in general climbed trees a lot more than I expected, to grab fruit, nap, or just ape around.On our second day, there were two other silverbacks nearby, and they and Kingo had a chest thumping battle. At one point, Kingo rushed off to confront his nemesis a little more directly, and we sat with his family, all of us anxiously awaiting his return.The other thing it’s important to mention is how impressed we were by the trackers. They followed each group all day long, and noted where they were when they left for the day, near sundown. The next morning, they returned to the site (following what seemed to us imperceptible signals in the dirt and bush branches) and then tracked evidence of the gorillas movements to find them again. The first time it all happened very quickly – we saw their bed, and then located them 10 minutes away.The other time however, we searched for them for an hour, following such subtle signs as an overturned leaf or a slightly crunched nut. I don’t know how they do it. We got lost walking to our tent after dinner every night (much to the amusement of everyone else there).

This whole experience was highlighted by the fact that we were the only tourists at the camp; actually, in the whole park for the first 2 days, although we were joined by an English mother and son our last evening at both camps, Kay and Chris, which we enjoyed a lot because they were really nice, and because we got to speak English and compare notes. It was really just us, the trackers, and a handful of researchers.This is one of the most impressive places in the world, but it is special because it is not geared towards a Western mentality, and requires some extra effort and a sense of adventure. For us, it was definitely worth it. We hope these gorillas and the rest of the wildlife can be protected here for the foreseeable future.

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