Uganda Travel News

size for observing gorillas at a single time. The number wasn’t chiseled in stone, but it did reflect Bill’s practical experience with the adult gorillas of Groups 11 and 13, who were much calmer if all the visitors remained within sight. Six also represented the maximum number of visitors that he felt the guides could control and keep separated from the gorillas. This group size further assured a quality experience for each visitor. People who had traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars to see gorillas didn’t want to view their subjects from behind the heads of fellow tourists. ORTPN, however, was extremely reluctant to establish any limits. In part, this reflected a very real need for increased political clout based on revenue, in part it reflected ignorance and greed. You said that you could make money from the gorillas, Monsieur Weber. So let’s make money.

One December morning in 1979, Bill heard the distant drone of two Volkswagen vans grinding their way up the final stretch to the base of Visoke. This auditory early warning system was the only way of knowing who might show up each morning. With three overnight campers already scheduled to go out, the two vehicles signaled a probable overload, but Bill was not prepared for the thirteen tourists who emerged from the vans. They were all members of an Air France crew that had rented the vehicles, purchased their tickets, and insisted on seeing gorillas. Bill tried to persuade half the group to return the next day, but they were adamant about staying together. With a recent order from Benda Lema not to turn anyone away, Bill had no alternative. He assembled the sixteen visitors and told them to stay together, keep quiet, and follow instructions.

The group set off with Big Nemeye in front, Bill in the middle of the caravan, and two porters in the rear. Within a half-hour Nemeye found fresh trail from that morning, not far from where they had left Group 11 the day before. Bill noted that it was not unusual for the gorillas to follow the trail of departing tourists, sometimes shortening the path to recontacting the group the next morning. He hoped it was a good omen. That day’s shortcut, though, led straight up the mountain. Over the next hour and a half, the band of twenty humans became increasingly dispersed as altitude and exertion forced stragglers to the rear. Bill stopped the group several times, reminding them to stay together and remain quiet. Still, the gorillas moved steadily higher up Visoke’s eastern flank. As the gorillas neared the treeline, a female and two youngsters finally appeared in the notch of a Hagenia tree about twenty yards away. Bill was in front and gathered five or six of the tourists around him as he sought to identify the gorillas.

The cries came from a Frenchman who had fallen in a small ravine and was smng by nettles. He was not pleased. Neither was the silverback who screamed a single wraaagh in response to the Frenchman’s curses. The other gorillas fled from sight, leaving Bill to contemplate an unappealing set of options. Had he been alone or with Nemeye, he would have simply left the gorillas in peace and returned home. But tourists complicated the equation. They had rented their vehicles, paid their fees, hiked a long way, and all wanted to go on. Most had behaved well under difficult circumstances. Bill gathered the group together and told them to sit quietly and wait with Nemeye and the porters while he went ahead. If the gorillas crossed a ravine where they could be seen without further disturbance, he would call the others forward. If the gorillas showed signs of fear and flight, they would call it quits. Everyone nodded as Bill set off alone.

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