Often, the things in life that require the most time and effort, also offer the greatest reward and this was the case for at least the first of our two treks to see the rare Mountain Gorillas of the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda. Our first trek took us high into the mountains, through some serious nettle forests, but ultimately right into the midst of a gorilla family.

After a couple of hours of trekking, we at last reached the point where the trackers were waiting. This signals the point where we drop our bags, ready our camera’s and approach the last few meters to spend time with the gorillas we had traveled so far to see.

Our first sighting was of one of the large silverbacks walking towards us and then crossing just in front of where we were positioned. It was just around midday by the time we had located the family and they were already deep into the shade of a bamboo thicket.

This worked well in our favour, as we were able to position next to where they lay stretched out in the shade, relaxing after their morning feeding session. Several young gorillas showed interest in us and approached, beating on their chests, practicing what would one day be a sign to others to “stay away!” It is quite amusing when a gorilla of only around a year old, stands up beating his chest!

At one point, one of the three silverbacks decided he wanted to cross from where he lay, to where another younger “black back” was standing. It was spectacular to watch as he ran across the front of our group, who at this stage were crouched and sitting just a few feet from where he passed, dragging and breaking a large stem of bamboo as he did so.

Our second trek was less strenuous and after a relatively short hike, we located the trackers and moved into position. Initially the terrain was tricky, with thick stands of bamboo blocking our views, but with careful positioning we ended up having one of the most incredible encounters as we sat quite literally amongst the family. Silverback stretched out next to us, youngsters running at times through our group, while others descended from the bamboo above us, showering us in leaves and sticks.

It is difficult to put into words how it feels to be with these animals, knowing that they are wild animals and yet so accepting of us being in their territory. At times actually approaching us with curiosity in their eyes and with the young males, a glint of mischief that usually translates into them thundering through the group, dragging with them as much vegetation as possible in a display of strength and sheer enjoyment.

With a little over 800 of these animals remaining on earth, it is rewarding to know that our time with them helps to conserve the last remaining patch of their habitat, keeping this species alive… very special indeed!