One of my most memorable trips was tracking gorillas in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda in 2011. We convened early to be allocated a gorilla group – we were then given the news as to whether we had a short drive or a long uphill hike to find them. Unfortunately, we drew the short straw and spent about four hours walking uphill and then into the caldera of a volcano to find the gorilla group. The hike was arduous with our path being cut through the thick vegetation by our guides. Fortunately, we did have porters who were faithfully carrying our camera bags.
As we neared the gorilla group we were asked to take one camera and lens and make our way quietly towards the gorillas. We were under a dense tree canopy and the sun was shedding bright specular highlights on the black fur of the gorillas – a photographer’s nightmare. I was aiming to find ways of framing the gorillas in their natural habitat, and capturing aspects of their behaviour and the interaction between juveniles and adults. We had one hour to take our images and our guide helped us get the best shots and cut down some of the vegetation.
As we concentrated on our task a juvenile gorilla came out of the undergrowth towards me. We were told to keep a good distance from them but this one had clearly not been given the instruction. She came right up to me – she stroked my leg and then grasped my hand. Not one of the other photographers with me captured the moment! After an exciting twelve-hour day we returned to our lodge to soothe our aching limbs.
On the second day we were given a gorilla group much nearer to our starting point and drove a short way before we continued on foot. It was drizzling and vegetation was thick and slippery. As we walked further into the forest we encountered some elephants nearby. There were less gorillas and photographic opportunities than the first day but as we returned for dinner we reflected on the experience before packing our bags for the onward trip to Kigali and then South Africa.
And finally, my favourite shot . . .