Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda

Mountain gorillas are elusive, making their homes in the high altitude forested volcanoes of East Africa. In summer 2014, I spent several days photographing mountain gorillas in Rwanda, a beautiful and peaceful country in the heart of gorilla territory. It was an amazing experience I will never forget.

The cornerstone of Rwanda’s tourism efforts is Volcanoes National Park, home to the mountain gorilla. Today, the mountain gorilla is critically endangered, with the total population estimated at under 1000 (mostly concentrated in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo). Although their numbers are slowly increasing as a result of conservation initiatives, gorillas continue to face major threats from habitat loss and poaching. A burgeoning tourist economy focused on the gorillas is probably their best hope for long term survival.

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Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Canon 70D, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/500 second

Gorillas are peaceful and magnificent animals, living in cohesive groups of anywhere between five and thirty individuals (sometimes even more). Sharing 98 percent of their DNA with humans, gorillas are among our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. When looking into the unfathomable depth of their eyes, it is hard not to see us staring back.

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Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Canon 70D, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 200, f/3.2, 1/400 second.

Trekking with gorillas is a remarkable experience. Depending on which family group you are assigned to, your trek can be as short as 45 minutes or as long as several hours. The trekking can be very difficult, as it is often steeply uphill at high altitude, through seemingly impenetrable thickets of stinging nettles. The guides and trackers do a great job hacking a path out of the jungle, and porters are available to carry heavy camera equipment. When you find your assigned gorilla group, you are limited to one hour of interaction, which never seems enough time to be among these gentle giants.

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Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Canon 70D, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 160, f/2.8, 1/500 second.

It is amazing how close you can get to these wonderful animals, so I found my 70-200mm lens to be sufficient for most of my photography. My tripod was pretty much useless, as the ground was extremely uneven and the gorillas were almost always moving around; using a monopod or handholding your camera is a better option. The light was constantly changing, so I used my camera’s auto ISO setting, allowing me to keep my attention focused on my subjects.

To learn more about conservation efforts to protect mountain gorillas, go to the African Wildlife Foundation’s website: awf.org. You can see more mountain gorilla photographs on my website: Dreamscapes – Mountain Gorillas.

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About the author: World-renowned professional photographer and Tamron Image Master Ian Plant is a frequent contributor to several leading photo magazines and the author of numerous books and instructional videos. You can see more of Ian’s work at www.ianplant.com.

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Discussion
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20 Responses to “Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda”
  1. Hector Raul Acosta

    Ians’ article is fascinating. It has reminded me my own great experience I had, visiting the refered Virunga National Park, in the 80s. At that time, I was posted in Nairobi, Kenya, serving as a Mexican Foreign Service diplomat.

    Reply
  2. Lisa May

    Ian, Can you recommend a tour group in this area to photograph these beautiful mountain gorillas in Rwanda? thank you, Lisa

    Reply
  3. Eldie Marshall

    I visited Rwanda this past February and trekked the Mountain Gorillas. The terrain was very rugged, the guides very helpful and the experience outstanding. When you get up close with these beautiful creatures it is truly and exhilarating and worthwhile experience.

    Reply
  4. samantha Smith

    Before we traveled to Rwanda to see gorillas, i had the opportunity to read your informative article Ian, and it was of great help! Thank you. very nice shots of gorillas, just looks so real. Booked with http://www.wildrwandasafaris.com and they were great!

    We trekked gorillas twice and each was distinct and unforgettable! Two very different gorilla groups & locations, more than 6 hours the first day and the second we chose easier group as we got very exhausted by the hike on day 1. Well managed conservation project, well trained and informative guides making the entire experience a bucket-list adventure!

    Reply
  5. Rajiv Bhandari

    Very Amazing article about Mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Having read it, we searched online for some tour operator to organise a safari for us and we booked a gorilla trip through http://www.gorillasinrwanda.net and their arrangements were amazing. We saw the gorilla and enjoyed everything about them.

    Reply
  6. Trevor Klyn

    This is amazing. I personally Visited Rwanda for a three days trip and it was exciting. I booked through http://www.trekrwandagorillas.com/ and they were good at arranging my trip.
    When I read Ians’s article I remembered the experience I got while in Rwanda. Thanks Ian for the great work

    Reply