Aah, the hazards faced by wildlife photographers ... Hazard #168: Getting punched by an 'intoxicated' mountain gorilla.
Photographer Christophe Courteau was taking snaps of mountain gorillas in the forest of Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park when the group's 250kg alpha male charged at him out of the blue. Amazingly, Courteau managed to get in one last shot of the incoming fist before the punch connected.
Caters News Agency reports that the very disgruntled ape was "drunk" from eating bamboo stems, which ferment in gorilla stomachs causing the animals to become intoxicated. “In less than a second, he was on me, and strongly hit me like a rugby player. With the shock, I felt all his power and weight on my body," Courteau recalls.
Courteau notes that his gorilla subjects are usually timid, and tend to avoid close contact with humans. But it seems that getting boozed up on bamboo had made the alpha male rowdy and aggressive – and the unlucky photographer wasn't even the intended target of the gorilla's rage.
“He did not care about me, and pushed me out the way with his left hand like I was not there. Then he dashed through the vegetation to chase away a [rival] male behind us who looked to be interested in one of [the] females.”
When the rainy season arrives in this part of Rwanda in October, the area's mountain gorillas migrate to the slopes of the Virunga Mountains and feast on the protein-packed bamboo that's abundant there – but too much feasting can have intoxicating consequences. And this is not the first time inebriated gorillas have made the news. In 2009, wildlife photographer Andy Rouse had his own encounter with a gorilla group that appeared to be a little under the influence.
Fortunately, Courteau came away (almost!) unscathed. “I was not seriously injured in the altercation; I just got a souvenir scar on my forehead. But I will remember this instant all my life long – it was like being hit by a train.”
Images: Caters News Agency