Wilderness Safaris has been running its annual photo competition since 2017, intending to showcase the African continent and raise funds for conservation. This year’s competition raised a total of ZAR200 000 (AUD18 000) for Children in the Wilderness (CITW) – specifically Eco-Clubs and Eco-Mentor training.
I have been following Wilderness Safaris for some time. They have made, and continue to make, huge progress through their ‘life-changing’ conservation tourism journeys, and their dedication to conserving and restoring Africa’s wilderness and wildlife over the past 38 years. With more than 40 camps spread over seven countries in Africa, they pride themselves on protecting wilderness areas and the flora and fauna they support. They involve local communities in their efforts to make a difference in Africa.
CHILDREN IN THE WILDERNESS
Wilderness’ non-profit partner, CITW aims to facilitate sustainable conservation through leadership development and education of children in Africa. They believe that by providing education for children about the importance of conservation and its relevance to their lives, wildlife and the environment, the children will learn to protect their natural heritage and take responsibility for the environment and their countries’ futures.
WHY I ENTERED THIS COMPETITION
Being a wildlife photographer and lover of wildlife and nature conservation, I decided to enter Wilderness’ annual competition to support this great cause, Children in the Wilderness, not expecting to win. Instead, I was thrilled and honoured to be awarded first place in the ‘African Wildlife’ category with my Endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), Uganda. As a result, I have won a four-day safari for two people in Botswana (worth USD10 000).
I was in Uganda in 2019 for three weeks and visited BINP. The reason I went there was for research on mountain gorillas for my Master of Wildlife Health and Conservation degree. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and loved the opportunity to trek with the gorillas and see them in their natural habitat. This was my first encounter with mountain gorillas, which was very special and well worth the hour trekking through the dense, virtually impenetrable forest in BINP. I enjoyed watching this particular gorilla sitting quietly and enjoying its meal of green figs. It was taken early in the morning in the dark forest with a ray of light shining through the trees onto its face. A very special moment indeed.
MOUNTAIN GORILLA – GORILLA BERINGEI BERINGEI
Mountain gorillas are found in high altitudes (2 500 – 4 000 m) in the montane forests of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They are an endangered species with only around 1 063 individuals left in the wild.
Mountain gorillas live under constant threat of their existence due to the degradation of their habitat, hunting, wars, illegal wildlife trade and disease ~ such amazing primates are constantly struggling for their survival!
BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK – A UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE
BINP is situated in south-western Uganda on the rim of the Rift Valley. It is one of Africa’s oldest and richest forests at over 25 000 years old. It is beautiful and vast, covering 320 km2, with high altitude, 60% of which is at 2 600 m elevation. It is tropical with rainfall up to 1 900 mm annually , and very dense vegetation. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 due to its biological richness and significance. Bwindi means ‘a place of darkness’ in the local Mubwindi language.
BINP has an incredible biodiversity of species. With more than 324 species of trees, 10 of which are only found in this area. It has over 100 different species of ferns, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies and 120 different species of mammals, including elephants, antelopes, baboons, monkeys and chimpanzees.
It was such an incredible experience and very special to trek through the BINP in search of these remarkable primates. I was so lucky to find this troop of amazing mountain gorillas. To trek for over an hour not knowing if one will find them, then to suddenly come face-to-face with these awesome primates leaves one speechless. To see and watch them ‘doing their thing’ in their natural habitat and to photograph them was one of the most amazing experiences in my life.
Being physically fit is definitely an asset as the trekking is a tough challenge to get through these dense mountainous regions. It is very thick, wet, slippery and virtually impenetrable to get through. Trekkers and guides lead the way and very minimally slash through some of the vegetation to allow people to get through the undergrowth, often crawling under or climbing over logs and trees – but definitely well worth the hard trek!
Written and photos by Margaret Weiss
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