Trackers hadn't spotted the group in more than 2 weeks, but located them not long after we arrived at Loango. We left our camp at 7:30 AM and reached the gorilla research base after a 1-1/2 hour boat ride. When we arrived, we were told the trackers lost site of the gorillas. Evidently, it's much harder to track them during the dry season, since there are no fresh, muddy footprints to follow. So we waited, hoping for positive updates while getting to know the staff of dedicated primate researchers. It was several hours before we heard the trackers were once again on their trail. Another hour, and we got some bad news - it was the wrong gorilla group.
You may be asking, "what do you mean - the wrong gorilla group . . why does it matter?" And that is an excellent question. The group we are tracking is the only habituated gorillas in this vast region, meaning over time they have gotten used to seeing humans. The primate researchers have spent many years approaching these animals in a non-invasive way, so that they now view humans as just another species in the jungle, who mean them no harm.
This is actually good for two reasons. First, the researchers can truly study Lowland Gorillas and collect data, much like the way Dian Fossey did with the Mountain Gorillas in East Africa. The more we know, the better we understand how to protect them as an endangered species. Second, tourism. Just like in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, controlled tourism helps generate funds that are used to keep the research facility going, and also provide an income for rangers, trackers, support staff and other members of this remote community.
We were starting to weigh our options, considering what we would do if the gorillas were not located, when the young research director ran up to us with a genuine look of excitement . . . our group had been spotted and we would leave immediately to see them.