Tracking the gorillas

Living in dense forest, western gorillas are especially difficult to track, a process essential to their habituation. High gorilla densities make follows of a single focal group challenging; their extended range increases the area that has to searched; a single group’s traces may be dispersed over 100’s of meters; and, as the PHP learnt from their first habituated group, western gorilla groups can disintegrate rapidly. In addition to these reasons, all animals have an inherent fear of humans, likely resulting from past hunting pressure, and tracking becomes more difficult when animals flee.

The key to the Primate Habituation Programme’s success is the exceptional skills, patience and dedication of the BaAka trackers. Their heightened senses and extensive forest knowledge are truly amazing: they can perceive the slightest of sounds and smells in the dense forest; detect inconspicuous imprints and traces within deep leaf litter; distinguish the species the traces originated from, their direction of travel, and the length of time which has since passed by. The BaAka are thus considered the backbone of the programme: allowing the habituation teams to maintain daily group follows, from 6h00 to 18h00, year round.