The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two most endangered apes in the world (with the Cross River Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla diehli). There are only approximately 350 mountain gorillas alive today, and all of them are found in the wild. They only exist in two small, protected afromontane forest patches in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The beautiful emerald-green Virunga Volcanoes straddling the Rwanda-Uganda border are the stronghold of the celebrated mountain gorilla.
This park contains the 'gorillas in the mist' that Dian Fossey lost her life for while trying to protect.
Only about 355 mountain gorillas remain alive on the damp forested slopes of these volcanic mountains (not all of which are dormant), and eco-tourism is one way to assist in their survival.
The slippery slopes of the Virunga Mountains lie in the north east of Rwanda.
The mountain range with peaks up to 14,648 feet (4,507metres), spills over into the neighbouring countries of DRC (Congo – formally Zaire), and Uganda – where mountain gorillas may also be visited.
The park contains several vegetation zones from lowland forest to Afro alpine and tall primary rainforest whose low branches are covered in lichen and occasional parasitic orchids.
Having a close encounter with mountain gorillas is a heart-warming experience that you will never forget, neither is trudging through the damp loamy undergrowth, often heavy with mist. None of the hardships enter your head once you make eye contact with your first gorilla and the sensation of kinship is almost overwhelming.
There is more meaning and understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal you know.
There are strict protocols in place and each of the habituated gorilla groups receives a maximum of eight people in one visit a day. Meeting these distant cousins of ours is a real privilege.