On a beautiful Tuesday morning laden with a heavy cloud hanging over head the return of a great man was marked. He had come to yet again to track mountain gorillas of Bwindi which event summed up a remarkable quarter in the lives of the Bwindi’s mountain gorillas. The rainy season could not in any way dampen the mood and enthusiasm of Jonathan who had come to track the Bitukura group in Ruhija accompanied by wife Laura Snook.
He was here on a private visit to his friends the Directors of ITFC Miriam and Douglas. It was a great home coming for Jonathan Kingdon after 25 years without visiting Bwindi and the mountain gorillas. The conservation is also credited for playing a key role in persuading the powers that be to establish the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation, a Mbarara University Science and Technology affiliate in its current day location of Ruhija in Bwindi. It was therefore an emotional moment for the great man to not only see how much gorilla conservation has positively changed compared to the first time of interface with these very gorillas in 1960 when their survival was entrusted on chance rather than deliberate protection.
Not many people cared for gorilla conservation and survival as it is presently. Mr. Jonathan Kingdon is a household name in the mammal world and indeed greatly affiliated to the history of conservation of mountain gorillas in Uganda. Born in 1935 in Tanzania, Kingdon is an artist and naturalist with specialty in African Wildlife and evolution with a lot of amazing academic works to his name like the popular “The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.” He is a research associate at Oxford and contributes to the Oxford Book of Modern science writing but also lectured in Makerere University in 1959.
Back in the days in the 60s, Jonathan reminiscences how gorillas struggled for the habitat with their human cousins as deforestation had taken its toll on the environment. More people encroached on the available forest cover each passing day. The gorillas then were literally so to speak under siege. They were fearful of the humans as they were hunted down as punishment for the crop raids they often carried out in people’s gardens. A lot of bad blood was high flowing in these two races of close relatives.
His maiden tracking experience back in the 60s was driven by passion for conservation rather than leisure. His first encountered was less eventful. The gorillas kept racing far away from any human presence. In his own admission, they were stalked and not tracked! It was a very unfriendly wild chase where the gorillas expected to be tormented rather than have a friendly interaction with their human relatives. Any lucky glance at them could reveal a hard shadow parched in the forest cover many meters away from the pursuer. Today 50 years later, conservation among the people for the habitat and gorillas is a notch higher. The future looks bright.
He acknowledged how UWA and its staff responsible like trackers and guides have done a great job to sustain gorilla conservation. For a change, guides now understand the history of gorilla groups, the individuals and health making gorilla tracking a fulfilling adventure. With this mileage attained, Kingdon had this to say, “I would press anybody from anywhere to make this pilgrim.” Speaking passionately about issues affecting conservation, Jonathan weighs in that he favors tightly regulated tourism and definitely against all gorillas being habituated. It was a plus though for UWA as he noted that the gorilla rules and regulations in the forest were tightly enforced which helps to relieve stress off the gorillas in the one hour view period.