When she’s not teaching psychology at Harvard University, Regina Yando, (her friends call her Sunny) takes off around the world with her husband, John, to see beautiful places and meet wonderful animals in the wild. On their latest trip, they went to visit the gorillas of Virunga National Park in Rwanda, and had an experience that they may be dining out on for the rest of their lives. We talked with Sunny when she got back. Here’s what she told us:
This was the second time I’d been to see the gorillas. The first time, we went with a group, which is a good idea. But this time, given that I’d had the experience, I knew how to handle everything, so we went by ourselves.
You can go to see gorillas in Rwanda or in Uganda. The ones in Uganda, like the Bwindi National Park are less developed. And the Virunga National Park in Rwanda is a bit better developed in terms of seeing the animals.
Either way, you need to check out what the political situation is. Both areas have programs to get people more involved in seeing the gorillas as a tourist trade and not killing them for food or because the farmers think they’re a menace. That’s not to say that there haven’t been a lot of killings, but most of that seems to be coming from the Congo side.
The Virunga volcanoes separate the Congo from Rwanda and they touch on Uganda. That’s the area the gorillas are in. The killings that have gone on most recently have been from the Congo side. Of course, the gorillas don’t know the Congo from Rwanda. So they go wandering around and if they’re in the wrong place, they’re very apt to get killed. Previously, they were also killing them in both of the parks in Rwanda and Uganda.
There’s a Virunga Lodge and there’s a place called the Gorilla Nest Lodge. They will usually organize the permits to visit the park. You can also contact the park directly and set up permits with them. But there are only so many permits per day. And if they have a big crowd, well, I did see somebody pay off one of the guards at the desk so that someone else all of a sudden didn’t have a permit! If you book through the hotel, you have some guarantee that you’re going to be able to see the gorillas.