“If a gorilla charges you, stand still, hold your ground and you should be OK,” says Ed Frankel.
He grins and shakes his head, remembering the moment in September 2017 when a silverback gorilla in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest charged him.
Ed relates the story, “We were walking up a mountain for about three and a half hours, looking for the gorillas, and we were tired. I didn’t see him because he was behind some heavy brush. The jungle was all around and I heard this loud roar. I turned and I saw his left arm knock down all the brush between us. And then he sat down, six feet away from me. He reached up, pulled down some leaves, started eating and I started clicking the camera.”
For Ed, it was the moment of a lifetime and the highlight of an eight-day excursion through the Ugandan jungle tracking wildlife.
A passion for wildlife
As a small animal, exotic and wildlife veterinarian, Ed spent the last 54 years nursing animals ranging from dogs and cats to porcupines and ocelots to eagles and geese back to health.
For the Frankels, it’s natural to spend vacations tracking wildlife off the beaten path in exotic locations like Alaska, Galapagos, Costa Rica, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
During a trip to Alaska and British Columbia, they took a small ship cruise and enjoyed walking on the glaciers and seeing Kodiak bears, puffins, orcas and seals. In Galapagos they snapped photos of blue-footed boobies, flightless cormorants, baby seals and black-tipped sharks. In Costa Rica they captured images of three-toed sloths, howler and capuchin monkeys. More recently, a photo safari for elephants, giraffes, gazelles and crocodiles in Kenya and Tanzania took them to the banks of the Mara River after the wildebeest migration.
A trip to Uganda
Last fall Ed and his wife Pat traveled to Entebbe, Uganda where they connected with a guide who drove them across the country and helped them find chimpanzees, gorillas and tree climbing lions. Friends from California joined them on the journey.
Ed says, “We could have flown east to west, but we really didn’t want to fly. We wanted to see the country. So we drove on the roads in Africa, which the guide said were ‘African Massage.’”
Driving on dirt roads on the edge of the mountain in a Toyota Land Cruiser added an extra dose of adventure to the trip.
Their days started with breakfast at 6:30 and they were in the Land Cruiser by 7. As they traveled, they stopped to interact with children, handing out matchbox cars, soccer balls and ballpoint pens.
They enjoyed the scenery, taking in the vast tea fields, crater lakes and farmers’ markets. They chose to spend their nights in remote lodges with limited electricity, no running water and beds covered with mosquito netting.
A trip of discovery
Their travels took them up and down and around the mountains. During one of their traveling days, Pat says, “We were going down this African road and our guide says, ‘We’re going to find some lions.’ Finally he says, ‘I see them.’ He backs up the vehicle, points way off in the distance and says, ‘They are in that tree.’
Pat continues, “Now, there are signs all over the place that say, “Do not off-road, do not off-road.” He turns and says, ‘We are not off-roading.’”
Ed interjects, laughing, “And we whip around and off-road we went.”
Pat continues, “We got closer and closer to the tree, and we still couldn’t see anything. The lions are almost the same color as the branches they are on. He saw a hump on the branch from the road. Turns out, there were three lions in two trees. And they were just hanging out, flopping all over the branches.”
Another day they hiked a mountain tracking chimpanzees. After hours of searching they were rewarded with an up-close-and-personal encounter with a large family of chimpanzees doing all the things chimpanzees do.
But the highlight of their travels was the silverback gorilla and his family. Remembering, Ed says, “It was astounding.”
His advice for travel: “No matter what you want to see, don’t work so hard searching for it. If you open your eyes, you’ll see other things instead. But don’t stop trying.”