In ‘the moment’, and when too excited by the experience, it’s very easy to forget the proper rule of conduct. Keeping a respectful distance is not just for your safety but is also about theirs (including their health). By not following the rules we are inconsiderate and unethical. Take this example of human recklessness when visiting a gorilla family in Rwanda…
Here is an example of bad human behavior when visiting a Rwandan gorilla family. The Rwandan Parc National Des Volcans has an excellent and detailed briefing including distance (minimum 8 meters) and timing for wildlife viewing (maximum one hour). The gorillas are aware that we are respectful at that distance and do not consider us a danger to them. It minimises any risk of respiratory infections jumping from us to them and we keep any impact to a minimum. The guides and rangers give a list of what to do to minimise aggression including staying quiet and still, with no flash photography and asking us to not get too close to any of the youngsters.
It went well for most of the visit. We were a little too close but in part, this was due to the curiosity of them coming down from their nests. In part, this was down to us forgetting the distance rule and the leader made no issue, deeming our group distance safe.
However, later on, a member from our party wanted to get better photos and moved ahead by 10 feet or so of the group, including the rangers, to take pictures of a baby and her mother. A photo we’ve seen (not published to maintain anonymity), shows how isolated they made themselves. The lead ranger (quite rightly) had to call them back carefully, moved between them and the baby for safety and told us to put down cameras and stand very still until the mother was comfortable.
A further incident at the end of the allowed one-hour viewing was of even more concern. The ranger told us to turn cameras off and started to lead us away. The family even hinted it was time to go as they had started to turn their heads whilst eating and the silverback lead a few of them away and up into the trees. None of us wanted to go and one of the babies was still hanging around playing on the vines near us, nevertheless, it was our time and the lead ranger lead us out.
However! One or two of the party at the back of the group wanted to get some last photos and turned to chase a baby (and mother) who were following the rest of their family. Some of us only got to know about this when one of them admitted it with chagrin after we returned home and conceded that the way they chased the baby back to the bush was almost frantic and mindless –and this so as to get those last minutes shots.
This was a potentially dangerous situation for all of the visitors, again just to get a nicer photo. The one who told us about the unfortunate event agreed that their attitude in that moment was reckless. Indeed that behavior was unethical and had no consideration or thoughtfulness for the comfort and the health of the animals in those moments. In this instance, the lead ranger had not seen what had happened as she was leading the group out expecting us to have been compliant and respectful.
Note that your local guides should always make sure to do a health and safety briefing and if they haven’t, make it your objective to ask them or find out and follow any advice given.
by Sharan Bahra
The photos and videos in this article are the property of the author.
Find out more about our wild encounters browsing our Notes from the Field.