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Pierre's March 2017 Safari

Encountering habituated wild gorillas in their natural habitat is one of the world's great wildlife experiences, and nowhere is it more enjoyable than in the Virunga Mountains. Mountain gorillas (a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla) live at altitudes ranging from 7,000-12,000 feet, where the air is cool and dry, and there are virtually no bugs. The Virunga Mountains are comprised of 8 volcanoes (all but two extinct) that staddle the borders between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and are home to almost 2/3 of the world's mountain gorilla population.

On the Rwandan side, the Virunga Mountains are protected by the Volcanoes National Park, which hosts the lion's share of the Virunga gorilla population. Easily accessible from Kigali (2.5 hours drive along good roads), and with 10 habituated gorilla families, Rwanda has prioritized sustainable gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes Park as the cornerstone of its tourism and conservation efforts.

Trekking to find the gorillas takes one through beautiful rainforest habitat. Paths are slippery and can be steep, so porters for your camera gear are essential, as are waterproof camera bags and covers. Excitement builds as your guide calls a halt so that everyone can get their cameras ready - your gorilla family has been located, and you are about to spend an hour with the World's largest primates. With heart racing you pick your way through the undergrowth, and there they are: the gentle giants of the forest.

Completely comfortable with human presence, the gorillas slowly go about their daily routine of eating, grooming each other, and generally "taking it easy". You're supposed to keep a distance of at least 23', but they will be closer than this for much of the time. Youngsters are boisterous, and are the most fun to watch and photograph; silverbacks (mature males) are exceptionally charismatic subjects. The gorillas' facial expressions are eerily human, as is their body odor (think five days of hard physical work without a shower).

Vegetation is thick, and you must (carefully and respectfully) move around to capture clear images of the gorillas from different perspectives - don't disturb the gorillas or your fellow trekkers. Flashes are strictly forbidden. Medium telephoto lenses work best (70-200mm is ideal), and bodies with full frame sensors are ideal; tripods/monpods are just an encumbrance. The gorillas' slow movement and the sounds of the forest make video a great option.

N.B. Be sure to let your camera(s) hang by your side for at least 15 minutes while you just take in the full experience.

 

EQUIPMENT LIST

Camera bodies:

Canon 1Dx
Canon 5dMkIII

Lenses:

70-200mm (f/2.8) USM
24-105mm (f/4.0) USM

Accessories

Vortex Media Storm Jacket (camers covers)
Lowepro Vertex 300AW camera bag
Blackrapid RS sports camera straps

Two batteries per camera

 

 

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