Unlike its cousin, the Mountain Gorilla of central Africa, the Western Lowland Gorilla is slightly smaller, slightly shyer, climbs trees more often and needs to be approached a lot slower, quieter and more carefully in order to get a good sighting. This we managed and around an hours walk from camp the tracker raised his hand for the first time signaling that we should stop and listen as he thought we were close.

At first it was difficult to pick out any sounds in the forest, the vegetation was thick, the trees are immense and the soft, moist cover on the forest floor dampens most sounds. After concentrating for a while we started to pick out the sounds of leaves being stripped, branches bending and twigs snapping. The tracker signaled for us to keep close and group together on a forest ‘path.’ A few seconds later the first gorilla immerged from the vegetation and stood side on to us, looking deep into our eyes, probably trying to make sure we weren’t any danger to the family who were surrounding us on all sides, just out of view.

Satisfied that we were not going to harm them, the youngster relaxed, faced us and walked towards where we sat. He was then joined by another young gorilla and between them they weaved in and out of the thick vegetation sneaking looks at us from time to time. Just off to our left we could make out the obvious silver shades of the big silverbacks markings. Unlike the Mountain Gorillas whose silver backs cover more of the shoulder to mid-back section, these Western Lowland Gorillas entire back is a brilliant silver colour, leaving no question as to who the big dominant male in the group is.

After some maneuvering we managed to position ourselves relatively close to the silverback who sat eating roots, stems and leaves that he plucked with his oversized fingers. From time to time he would look straight at us, deep into our eyes, pause his chewing, and then as if coming out of a day dream, snap back into reality and go about what he was up to before.

Our second trek took us into deeper vegetation and to a family group that really gave us the run around, changing directions, doubling back on themselves and at one point when we were in the thickest of brush, the silverback made such a noise we expected him to come down the path beating his chest in true gorilla fashion! Thankfully this didn’t happen, but he was no doubt just reminding us who was in charge! We had some good views of females climbing the trees and looking down at us as they fed on fruit and leaves. Later on in the trek, we sat ahead of the group and as they moved towards us, shaking vegetation and cracking branches indicated their approach. They magically appeared just in front of where we had anticipated they would cross the path. As they crossed they would pause, check us out and then once again be swallowed by the thick forest that surrounded us.

This was a very different experience to trekking with the Mountain Gorillas of central Africa. The gorillas themselves were less “sure of us”, as they see relatively few people by comparison, but we still enjoyed some close up encounters and managed to get some great images. Them being a little more uncertain of us is what I liked, as it reaffirmed just how remote we were and how untouched this part of Africa was.

It was also a really great feeling to know that so few people have actually spent time with these gorillas and that by visiting them we had helped to generate funds to continue the research that is needed to conserve these incredible great apes.

A true adventure with moments etched in our hearts and minds forever!