African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) Senior Vice President Craig Sholley has a lifetime of wildlife experience.
It started with a 60-day stint in the national parks of Kenya and Tanzania in the early ‘70s. He worked with Dian Fossey as a researcher and then became the director of the Mountain Gorilla Project in Rwanda in the ‘80s. He developed wildlife tourism programs throughout the world in the ‘90s and has been with AWF for nearly 20 years.
This year, he’s leading the AWF and Nature’s Best Photography Tanzania Photography Safari with award-winning wildlife photographer Jeff Vanuga, and the group will be partaking in one of his favorite wildlife activities.
Seeing Gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
“I’m biased but I have had wildlife experiences throughout the world – amazing wildlife experiences,” Sholley said. “I still rank being out in the midst of a family of gorillas as one of the most spectacular.”
After a journey through some of the best safari territory in East Africa – including the Northern Serengeti, where hundreds of thousands of wildebeest are expected to cross the Mara River – Sholley will trek into the forests of Rwanda and Uganda to see some of the world’s few remaining mountain gorillas.
“There’s nothing quite like being on the gorillas’ turf – to be in extraordinarily close proximity to a family,” Sholley said. “From a social standpoint, it’s a phenomenal experience that’s difficult to describe. The power of that experience is something that people react to in a very special way. I mean, tears in their eyes and big, lovely smiles on their faces and something they’ll talk about for the rest of their lives.”
There’s something fundamentally unique about visiting gorillas compared to going on safari through the savanna. Your journey is by foot in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where nearly half of the remaining wild mountain gorillas live. You can get within feet of a gorilla family, which makes for some truly remarkable moments, especially for wildlife photographers.
“The intimacy of the entire experience and the opportunities are phenomenal,” Sholley said. “Being less than 15 feet away from a group of gorillas – looking into their eyes is… it’s almost indescribable. It’s a very, very special and unique experience. And capturing gorilla facial expressions on film and ultimately then looking back at them – those are memories for life.”
Trekking with Sholley is a treat in and of itself, too. He cheerfully says he’s probably spent more time in the field with mountain gorillas than almost any other person, other than the guards and guides who see them on a daily basis.
That’s given him a vast array of knowledge about gorilla behavior, including some impressive insight about gorilla communication.