Rwanda was our third choice for a quick weekend trip from Lagos during the Salah holidays, after Ngorongoro and Victoria Falls. Since life is often full of practical decisions, a direct flight to Kigali and an easy e-visa clinched the deal for Rwanda! Once that was out of the way, I was most excited. After all, my friends and I were going to get up close and personal with our nearest primate cousins… the gorillas!
The day of the big date dawned soon enough. We had to climb up nearly ten thousand feet to reach gorilla kingdom – a climb which was tiring but full of apprehensions and expectations. The fear of the unknown made me somewhat nervous. What if the gorillas attacked us? But the thought of being in close proximity to our pre-evolution ancestors kept me going.
And sure enough, the moment finally arrived. We were right in the midst of the Sabyinyo gorilla family, who were barely a few feet away. I can’t quite describe what I felt then – excitement, fear, delight, danger… The gorillas watched us with trained eyes. But they also went about their lives and activities without being bothered one bit by our presence. I don’t know what I expected, but to be in the middle of a family of gorillas just like that – that was not something I had imagined in my wildest dreams!
In a while, we were in the presence of Guhonda, and I was transfixed. He is the largest gorilla alive, weighing a whopping 225 kilos. At 44, it is said he doesn’t have much time left in this world. Guhonda towered over us, making us look like pygmies. He must have been over twelve feet tall! I never looked at him directly – I was too overwhelmed to be able to do that. Instead, I used my camera’s viewfinder to watch him. That way I managed to capture all his antics without being worried about upsetting him. And sure enough, Guhonda didn’t disappoint. I must be one of the few lucky ones to have a photograph of him picking his nose and eating the fruits of his labour! That’s a shot I simply love. I’ve got to confess this is the point at which I completely concurred with the fact that gorillas share 98 per cent of their DNA with us human beings, which explains their unbelievably human-like expressions and actions!
As we made our way back that day, I realised what a humbling experience it was to have seen our closest cousins in their own habitat. To lock eyes with them. To look down in a gesture of submission to their supremacy. To observe how close they are to us in their action, behaviour, moods and affections. As I had stood just inches apart from them that morning, the realisation dawned upon me that a mere 2 per cent difference in DNA separated us by millions of years of evolution. That time had favoured us instead of them. Or, had it really?
It was World Habitat Day on 5 October. I was lucky to have been right in the habitat of our primate cousins. That day I decided that my children would have to experience the wild as it really is – because there cannot be a better way to understand the fact that the world does not belong to us alone and that we share it with creatures great and small. And what happens till they are ready for it? Well, I’m hoping a book or two or three will lead them into forests, fields, mountains, meadows, seas, swamps and more!