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.