Wildlife encounter of the year

January 13, 2012

Looking back over 2011, it is clear that all of our clients have special memories of their safaris with us. However, one wildlife encounter, captured on film and now an internet sensation, stands out above all others – the spell-binding moment where a family of gorillas approach, and start to groom a tourist in a chance encounter at their forest lodge.

John J King II, wildlife photographer and videographer, and the expedition leader, professional wildlife guide Jonathan Rossouw, captured the entire event on video. ‘Touched by a Wild Mountain Gorilla’, their film of this unique encounter, was subsequently uploaded to YouTube, where it became an overnight internet sensation. It has now been viewed an amazing 2 million times.

King had been videoing the gorilla group from a safe distance, as having already been on two days gorilla tracking he understood the risks of getting too close. However, the gorillas suddenly changed their direction and approached him directly, so he was left with no alternative but to immediately adopt a submissive pose and crouch down in the undergrowth, avoiding eye contact. This approach is advised by wildlife rangers if a gorilla approaches tourists whilst they are observing them during their tracking experience, but normally a safe distance is maintained at all times. Avoiding direct interaction with these endangered animals is extremely important as contagious diseases can be transmitted from humans to gorillas all too easily. Indeed, if you find yourself suffering from a cold or flu at the time, you will not be allowed to track gorillas at all.

Thankfully King was in perfect health, but nevertheless he kept still and crouched low, keen to avoid attracting any sort of aggressive reaction from the group’s leader, a massive Silverback. The video then shows the group settling behind him, with the younger gorillas starting to groom him, and a female gorilla comes to give him an inquisitive sniff. King keeps his head bowed but is talked through what is happening by the Zegrahm tour leader and wildlife expert Jonathan Rossouw.

John J King II was part of a tour group visiting Uganda with Zegrahm Expeditions, an international operator specialising in adventure travel to some of the world’s most inspiring destinations. Our Uganda office was the Uganda ground operator for the group, and our Uganda Guest Relations Officer Judith Amanio was lucky enough to be among the first people to see this amazing video footage directly after the clients finished their safari. The filming took place at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp, where the chance encounter with these gorillas took place.

The YouTube film has caused such a sensation there has been a significant increase in gorilla safari enquiries, which ultimately means more income for gorilla conservation. So with Uganda named no 1 destination in the entire world by Lonely Planet, and gorilla tracking a regular favourite on bucket lists, 2012 looks set to be a good year for the Gorillas.

Posted by Anne-Marie Weeden

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