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What kind of doctor was Doctor Fred?

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Why are adult male gorillas called silverbacks?

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Why do you think the silverback kicked the person in our group?

My Visit with Mountain Gorillas


In 2019, I visited Uganda, Africa. I was there to photograph the mountain gorillas.


We had a driver who took us to where the mountain gorillas live.  Why this is so special? There are only 1063 mountain gorillas left in the wild.  The people at the National Park placed me in a group of people from the United States. We went with a local guide whose job it is to look for the gorilla families. 

Our group had a veterinarian, or animal doctor, named Doctor Fred. He is from Uganda. He got his veterinarian degree from the University of Illinois, the state where I live. Doctor Fred’s job is to make sure the gorillas are safe and healthy.  Since there are so few gorillas in the world, Doctor Fred works very hard to keep the gorillas healthy. In 2011 it was estimated that only 400 gorillas were left in the world. 


On the way up the mountain I had a chance to talk with Doctor Fred.  We talked about places in the United States that he had visited. We also talked about his job as a veterinarian. He knows all of the gorillas and their personalities. After about an hour of walking up hill, Doctor Fred called me over. He pointed to a patch of very thick trees and bushes. I looked, but I didn’t see anything.  He said, “It’s a baby, 7 days old.”  Then I saw it! There was a beautiful baby looking right at me!  He was being held tightly by his mother. I took a few pictures but I just wanted to watch the tiny baby.  My heart raced with excitement.  Can you see the mother in the picture?  Hint- She has a twig in her mouth. 

Maybe this picture will help. Do you see her now? After a few minutes of watching the baby, Doctor Fred told me that the gorilla family was nearby.   


All of a sudden, a family of gorillas appeared.  They were close by and did not seem frightened by the group of people. 


This female gorilla was checking out her feet. 


Then, a silverback came strolling by.  A silverback is an adult male gorilla. They are called a silverback because they have silver on their back. Silverbacks are very big.  They can weigh as much as 500 pounds. That the size of 3 human adults! 


This silverback sat down right near me and began eating. I was about 6 feet away.  He kept looking at me. Someone in our group kept making sounds like gorillas make. The gorilla continued to look our way.


He stopped put his hand to his face as though he was thinking. 


He turned around and came right toward us. He kicked the person next to me that was making the gorilla sounds. It wasn’t a hard kick. She just giggled. 

Then he walked down the trail. 


He stopped and grabbed a tree about 4 inches wide. He pulled it right out of the ground and threw it. He looked at us as if to say, “I’m the boss here.” I didn’t feel scared or threatened. I was just thrilled to have this special encounter.

I spent some time photographing other members of the gorilla family. Then it was time to go. We were only allowed to spend one hour with a gorilla family. Then they get to have peace and quiet. 


As we were leaving, I looked over and saw this baby climbing a tree.  He climbed the tree as easy as walking. He looked at me with curious eyes. I waved and then I had to go. It was a very special day. 


If you would like to learn more about Doctor Fred and the gorilla doctors check out this video:

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