Thomson staffer Hillary Camara always wanted to see gorillas in the wild. It was a lifelong dream she wasn’t sure would come true because of the world’s dwindling gorilla populations.
After an adventure to Rwanda and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, she didn’t just see them; she came within inches of an entire family. We caught up with her to hear the full story.
It was your dream to see gorillas in the wild – why? Why gorillas over any other animals?
I’ve always found gorillas to be fascinating, even as a small child. They’re so human-like! Knowing how few are left in the world, I’ve felt that walking among them was something I had to do in my lifetime.
Finding the gorillas can’t be easy – they live in a place called the Impenetrable Forest. What was the hike like?
Every single day is different! Sometimes the gorillas are pretty low in the mountains, enjoying a lazy morning. Other times they are on the go. You are at the mercy of the animals.
The terrain is uneven and there is no trail. We were walking through thick foliage for most of the hike! It isn’t for the faint of heart, but my adrenaline was pumping the whole time, so the hike itself didn’t feel too bad.
What was it like when you found the first family?
This felt like the longest part of the whole experience. We knew we were close… we could hear them and see the bamboo moving in the distance. Not knowing exactly where they were or how many gorillas we were about to see kept me on high alert for those five minutes as the guides and trackers got us ready.
Hillary stood inches away from the gorillas here – notice her foot in the bottom left portion of the frame.
A silverback emerged from around the corner with a juvenile and a female. I also had another female sitting in the trees behind me. I was completely overwhelmed with happiness and awe.
What was the most significant experience you had with the gorillas?
Watching a juvenile interact with his mother was beautiful. She was laying on her back, resting after breakfast. The juvenile was playing then spotted her. He made his way over to her, laid beside her, and pulled his face to her. He then gave her a big kiss! I was a puddle. It was so cute.
What were you most surprised by? Did you learn anything new and interesting after seeing gorillas in the wild?
I was surprised at how unfazed the gorillas were with having us there with them. They just continued about their morning.
This experience really reiterated to me how important it is to bring guests to visit these magnificent animals. Not only does it help with conservation, it also helps with the local economy.
If you could do it all again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would have put down my camera more to just fully live in the moment.
Outside of the actual hiking and finding the gorillas, what were the other significant moments on your trip?
Meeting and talking with the people was incredible. I hired a personal porter for my trek and it was great to have him hiking alongside me. I was able to learn about him and what life is like in this part of the world.