Nothing prepared me for the impact of encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla, King Kong -like, yet peaceful and tolerant of human visitors. I guess it is much the same feeling people get when they first come face to face with a shark in the wild. I had forgotten that feeling ‘til I came face to face with a silverback. It can only be described as awe mixed with respect.
The chief silverback in the Susa group that I visited first is called Kurira, which means ‘to cry a lot’, because that’s what he did when he was young. He was sunbathing with his clan in a grassy clearing. Kurira watched us intently, then satisfied we posed no threat, he grunted, rolled onto his back and went back to sleep .A female played with her baby who stared at us inquisitively and jumped across his mother’s stomach. Another youngster swinging in nearby branches plopped down to join the snoozing group. Kurira awoke and lying on his stomach, propped up his hairy chin with a muscled forearm. The family group was at peace with the adults lolling around chomping some bamboo and the babies and sub-adults cavorting around and irritating the adults or falling out of the trees. Sometimes the babies come really close to the visitors and the guides have to pull you away- no matter how much you resist moving! The guides try to maintain a 7-meter distance between you and the gorillas at all times- more for the safety of the gorillas that are susceptible to human diseases. I so overwhelmingly wanted to get closer. The Susa group have a set of twins now four years old and the only surviving twins in the wild. One is a boy and the other a girl and they are celebrities in Rwanda. They are Byishimo, which means ‘Happiness’ and Impano (Gift).