Chris Evers' African Journey: Kenya, Uganda & Trekking with Gorillas in Rwanda

Chris Evers of Animal Embassy is journeying through Africa...Chris began his trip observing the wildebeest/zebra migration in Masai Mara National Park in Kenya, then traveled overland into Uganda to photograph chimpanzees. He will end in the mountains of Rwanda with giant gorillas. This trip is part of Chris' effort to photograph the most critically endangered species of the world and the challenges and successes associated with their preservation and conservation.

Masai Mara National Park, Kenya

Elephants play a major role in shaping the ecosystem and with shrinking lands for them to utilize they are relegated largely to reserves with the land to support them. On small reserves where they are incapable of their typical movements they can be very destructive. In the past these animals roamed over a vast open landscape, unrestricted by human activities. As landscape architects, and with the ability to find water, and expose it for others, they have been described as keystone species.

These are the common or Berchelli's Zebra. There are two other species of zebra: the threatened Mountain zebra and the endangered, Grevy's zebra (Equus grevyi).

Chris was pleased to have the opportunity to meet the Masai people and visit one of their villages. Their culture has certainly been impacted by the growing tourism industry in Kenya and Tanzania. He enjoyed meeting them and even dancing with them.

The lion is the protector of the pride. There can be more than one big male in a pride and their job is to provide

security to the females and cubs. Rogue lions can come in to the pride's territory and drive off the existing males to take over the pride and even kill the young cubs to bring the female back into estrus. Males rarely hunt, this is the duty of the lioness.

Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis). Due to the illegal trade of the rhinos horn to the Asian market for medicine and for traditional daggers in Yemen, these animals are critically endangered. They are about half the size of their larger cousins and have a reputation for being ill tempered. They are solitary creatures and are more of a browser, feeding on leaves, than as grazers of grass. The calf typically fallows behind the mother, presumably to get through dense brush where they forage for food.

Uganda

Chris observed a troop of red-tailed monkeys as they made their way through the trees, 20 or so feet away from the Nile River. They foraged their way up the small river gorge leading down to the much larger Nile River just after sunrise, and back down just before sunset.

After leaving Kenya, Chris crossed the border into Uganda. After a ten hour day in an overland vehicle the group arrived at Lake Bunyonyia. Arriving just as the sun was setting they did not get a good feel for the landscape so Chris arranged to take a dug-out canoe to explore the lake at sunrise. It took a little while to get used to the length and weight of the boat but he managed and went well out into the lake and caught a beautiful sunrise over the mountains. One group of girls wearing school uniforms, and in a similar canoe, asked him where he was going and he had to admit that he did not know. Not that he was lost but they were not used to seeing people paddling for sheer enjoyment.

After his morning paddle the group headed up into the surrounding hillside and visited a school for orphans, ages three to six. The children sang and danced for the group and then they were invited to come into the classroom to join them for a lesson. Chris was in the younger class and they were learning the English alphabet. After their lesson which involved lots of singing they were asked to teach the children a rhyme. It was decided by the group that Chris would teach them Old MacDonald Had a Farm. It took a while for it to catch on as English is not their first language and they have more of a British accent but it was a fitting lesson for him to teach and they were in the process of learning the different types of farm animals.

Intending to connect with a school some where along the journey Chris brought with him a large zip lock bag full of pencils, pens, crayons and markers. He also brought four bags of balloons. Balloons will make almost anyone smile.

After leaving Lake Bunyonyia in Uganda, the group crossed the border into Rwanda. After visiting the heart wrenching Genocide Museum in the capitol city Kigali they headed up into the mountains to the town of Ruhengeri. Tomorrow they'll will visit le Parc National des Volcans and trek with the critically endangered Mountain gorillas. Chris is fortunate enough to have two days with the gorillas and will revisit the park on Friday. After lunch, Chris' group made their way across Lake Buyonyia and visited with a remote group of people called the Batwa pygmy people. They had an amazing reception as small boats touched shore. A procession of about 50 local villagers accompanied them to the Batwa's. A quick but fierce storm hit as they hiked about 40 minutes to reach the village. All of the villagers started to run as the storm approached, encouraging them to follow. They were invited to squeeze into a few small mud huts with thatched roofs. It was a genuinely kind gesture on the part of the villagers. While they waited for the storm to pass, Chris started to whistle "Blue Skies Shining on Me" and the children all started to whistle along with me. Suddenly the clouds parted, rain stopped and they had an amazing time with the Batwa's as they sang and danced for them. The main dancer in the middle was over 80 years old and had amazing energy and strength.

Today, they hiked at least an hour through steep farmland at the base of Mt. Karisimbi to the entrance to the Volcanoes National Park. They were tracking the famous Susa group of Mountain Gorillas. This is one of the six extinct volcanoes in the park. Due to human encroachment the gorillas have been moving further up the slopes of these volcanoes. This past year four gorillas died presumably from exposure to the cold of these higher elevations. Chris was fortunate enough to be able to book two permits to be with the gorillas. It could take many hours to track the gorillas but once you catch up with them you only have an hour and that hour passes as if it were ten minutes. Permits are $500.00 each and at this point 72 are issued in a day. With these permits and all of the other money spent in Rwanda as a result of gorilla driven ecotourism Rwanda recognizes this valuable natural resource and aggressively protects them and their habitat. Tourism around gorilla trekking is third to tea and coffee as far as revenue generation in Rwanda. Below is the dominant silver back of the group of 12 that Chris visited on day one with the gorillas. The group was feeding in a steep ravine and it was difficult to get down to them. They then proceeded to eat, sleep and play in front of us for the next hour. Chris said he could spend days watching these amazing creatures.

In the photo below - on Chris' right is his guide Augustin, to his left is one of the two trackers and behind him are two of the porters. The tracker and guide know the park and these animals well. Some of the porters and trackers were former poachers. The value of protecting wildlife has now exceeded the value of killing. Now that there is an option many men have taken jobs to help insure the safety of the park and its wildlife. They can be proud of what they do and can pass on their career choice to future generations.

The gorillas are very playful and affectionate with each other. These two youngsters are play fighting. The vocalizations that they heard were amazing. Although they could not see it, they did hear them beating on their chests. The guides made regular vocalizations to keep the gorillas at ease with their presence.

Below is one of the younger males in the Susa group of Mount Karisimbi. The regulation is that humans must maintain a 7 meter distance from the gorillas. The gorillas are not bound by the same code of conduct. With 29 individuals it is nearly impossible to keep track of all of them in such dense forest cover. They just seemed to pop up everywhere. This one and the next walked right up the path that they were walking on and all they could do was to step to the side. The next one to come actual put his whole hand on Chris' leg as he passed. It was by no means an aggressive gesture.

There was a moment when one of the subadults of the group was crashing around up in the tangle of vines and bamboo shoots. Suddenly Chris realized that the gorilla was over my head. He remembers thinking "it can't be a good idea to have a gorilla over your head." He got out of the way and suddenly the gangly youngster came crashing down, hanging about six feet in front of his face.

Spending time trekking with the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas was a breathtaking experience. Chris said he never could have imagined that he would be so close to these amazing creatures and that one would actually place his hand on him. His time in Africa is growing short but he has time for one last wildlife adventure. He is leaving in an hour for Nyungwe Forest National Park. The rain forest is one of the remaining strongholds for chimpanzees. He looks forward to seeing these incredible animals in the wild where they belong.

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