Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Mountain Gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Uganda
The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.
An Affair Between Man and Ape
Biologists know the world is divided in two. There are the lumpers who like to group together similar things and there are the splitters who prefer to divide them on their differences.
Depending on what you read there is one species of great ape in the jungles of central Africa and it is classified scientifically as Gorilla. Or else there are two species, G gorilla and G beringei separated west and east of the Congo River respectively. There could also be two main and two sub-species of each, thus G g gorilla (the western lowland gorilla) and G g diehli (the Cross River species) on the one side, and G b beringei (mountain gorilla) and G b graueri (the eastern lowland gorilla) on the other.
The name given to the group by American missionary Thomas Staughton Savage and naturalist Jeffries Wyma was derived from a specimen obtained in what is today Liberia. It comes from the writings of the ancient Greek navigator Hanno, who described a tribe of hairy women along the coast of Africa that he called the Gorillae.
The first specimens to reach England, and later America, were 20 skins of western lowland gorillas that arrived there in 1859. They were carefully chaperoned by a most unlikely explorer and naturalist, the shy and diminutive French-American Paul du Chaillu. He had personally shot them while exploring modern-day Gabon, where he had grown up living with a missionary family.
This was a time when the ideas on the Descent of Man proposed by Charles Darwin had set tongues a-wagging in the courts across Europe: recall that old rebuff from the Archbishop of Canterbury, asking Darwin’s defender Thomas Huxley, which side of his family had descended from a monkey. Here, in the flesh so to say, was a human-like ape the likes of which had previously existed only in the realms of myth and legend.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Buhoma Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter.
It’s About the Small Things
While luxury safari camps help to bring to more and more people and their much needed money to remote places, Wild Frontiers front man John Addison points out that every level of luxury in rural areas comes at increasing environmental cost. Which is why they, in conjunction with Exclusive Camps and Lodges of Uganda, have opted for environmentally compatible levels of comfort at Buhoma.
This is the only tourist lodge that is located inside the national park, and as such enjoys pole position in terms of views, surroundings and access to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Having sampled lodges and hotels at every level in Africa, we found Buhoma to be, like the Bear’s porridge, just right for our tastes.
It is comfortable without being ostentatious. All power is solar and there is limited use of non-biodegradable products – and no plastic water bottles. Food is scrumptious and menus support local growers and suppliers as far as possible.
Eight timber chalets have been carefully built from local materials into the slope facing the forest. Each unit has large windows and a wide veranda to take full advantage of the magnificent setting.
The Wild Frontiers philosophy is that lodges should be in harmony with the environment, and as one of the brochures states: “You may find some differences in facilities and services compared to accommodation establishments in the Western World.” It is true, we did, and we liked it all the more for it.