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Mark Carwardine a Zoologist, conservationist and TV presenter ranks Uganda Wildlife among favourites

Rubbing shoulders with wild mountain gorillas is likely to be one of the most emotional, humbling and exhilarating 60 minutes of your life.

How do you compare the adrenalin rush of a face-to-face underwater encounter with a great white shark with a fleeting glimpse of a critically endangered Sumatran rhino?

Or how can you compare sitting quietly next to a bright red flower, mesmerized by fast-living hummingbirds in their iridescent suits, with the spectacle of millions of monarch butterflies at their winter roost?

This is the great pleasure of wildlife watching: every encounter is different. But it made picking the best of the best – my personal selection of the hotspots that have made the greatest impact on me over 30 years of traveling the world in search of wildlife – particularly difficult.

My original list included no fewer than 161 favorite places but, eventually, I whittled it down, picking a diverse range of animals, places and experiences that anyone can enjoy without having to organize special permits, charter planes, sleep rough or stand waist-deep in mosquito-infested swamps.

Rubbing shoulders with mountain gorillas, Uganda

It's only a one-hour encounter – and there is an awful lot of traveling and trekking to be done beforehand. But rubbing shoulders with wild mountain gorillas is likely to be one of the most emotional, humbling and exhilarating 60 minutes of your life.

There are currently about 800 mountain gorillas left in Africa: 480 in the Virunga volcanoes, which straddle Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and some 310-340 in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda.

In Bwindi, an island of 128 square miles of equatorial rainforest, surrounded by plantations, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has habituated seven gorilla families to receive human visitors. These consist of as few as seven animals to as many as 36, led by a mature male or "silverback" along with his harem of several females, various immature "blackback" males, and youngsters.

The trek in can take anything from less than an hour, if you're lucky, to as long as 11 hours, if you're not. It all depends on where your allotted gorilla family happens to be at the time.

Within minutes of entering the forest you are sweating and panting, crawling and clambering your way along slippery paths and precipitous mountain tracks. But the moment you come face-to-face with your first gorilla, the mud, the sweat and the tears are a distant memory. Standing in the heart of a seemingly limitless jungle, with a family of the largest primates in the world, is one of life's greatest pleasures. Your allotted hour goes so quickly. But life will never be quite the same again. Rubbing shoulders with wild mountain gorillas is a true privilege and, if everyone could do it just once, the world would be a better place.

The Independent UK: 1-April-2012

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