When a Gorilla Looks You in the Eye

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While travelling down the steep muddy roads near Bwindi National Park, this was the question that ran through my head: “What should I do when a gorilla looks me in the eye?” With lions you blink both eyes, hoping they return the gesture. This “cat kiss”, I was told, is the feline version of “sup dude?”.

Other animals you look down, away or stare back with a ferocity that bluffs away your weak and fragile human form.

But what about a gorilla? Well, according to the UWA guide, you simply look back. Looking down isn’t great, staring aggressively is quite stupid. But just return the gesture. It’s your cousin after all, might as well be friendly.

And so we trekked into the jungle. I slipped through mud with strangers, thanking the sweet and merciful shoe gods I had bought a decent pair of waterproof boots. And then, surrounding by a cloud of bugs, there he was. The alpha. He just sat there staring at us, and I stood on a log huddled behind the UWA guide peeking back.

As we ventured further, Mr. Alpha ventured right alongside us to where the rest of his group was resting. And then boom! Baby gorilla! The playful sprout quickly took me out of my fear zone, and I soon found myself venturing closer and closer, snapping photos and slipping into a severe state of camera click tunnel vision.

But a rustle right in front of me snapped me out of my daze. A large gorilla, the guides said was a ‘teenager of sorts’, wandered out of the bush in front of me. A brief, and what I’d like to think was cordial stare later, and it began to amble past me.

But what they don’t tell you, and this is probably for the best, is that occasionally gorillas will casually slap your ass as they pass by. Friendly cousins indeed.

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3 thoughts on “When a Gorilla Looks You in the Eye

  1. I am wondering how much in advance you had to book your permit to see the gorillas? Is there a tour group or guide that you would recommend? Thanks. I love this post and your pictures are fantastic.

    • Hey thanks so much!

      So for gorillas it depends on the season (there are low and high seasons for gorilla trekking) but generally go a week ahead. You go to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offices and they will find you a spot on a trip heading out. As long as you’re one or two people it shouldn’t be that hard. If for some reason that doesn’t work, contact a guided tour which sometimes buys them in bulk. Tours are okay, and I would really recommend getting a good tour driver to take you to Bwindi (the roads are muddy and narrow) but once you’re there you can really just walk around and easily make your own program.

      Also gorilla trekking is perhaps the best thing I’ve done so far in Uganda. I can’t even think of a way to describe it, but it’s unbelievably awesome and very much worth doing.

      • Thank you so much. I was just researching it and your information is most useful. It is definitely on my list now to do. Have a great day!

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