Trekking Rwanda with Jack Hanna is trip of a lifetime for 88-year-old globetrotter
Crossing the globe is a hobby of sorts for Salem Township resident Jean Loughry.
At 88, she’s closing in on having seen as many countries as years — 62 to date.
So the prospect of 17 hours of air travel, from Pittsburgh to Rwanda, is not daunting — especially when the payoff is seeing silverback gorillas and golden monkeys in the wild.
That, and having zookeeper, conservationist and television personality Jack Hanna and his wife, Suzi Hanna, as trip hosts.
After taking a Caribbean cruise a few years ago, where the Hannas served as hosts, and hearing his presentation at The Palace Theatre in Greensburg last year, Loughry approached Hanna.
“I told him if he ever goes to Rwanda again to let me know. He talked about silverback gorillas and golden monkeys. I wanted to see them,” she says. In October, she did just that during the week-long trip to central Africa.
Trekking through the jungle
One of seven women and four film members on the trip, Loughry recalls watching silverback gorillas eating bamboo stalks and the time she got a little too close to one of them.
“I was standing there and all of a sudden something pushed me. It was a silverback. I was in his way,” Loughry says, laughing.
Armed with a walking stick, and with a porter — or two — at her side, she braved steep hillsides, stones and mud.
During the night, the group slept outdoors, in platform tents, she spied two hippos just 25 yards away. “That was my prize picture of the trip,” she says.
Work trip adds tourism component
Rachel Csaszar is spokeswoman for the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium, where Hanna was hired as director in 1978 and currently serves as director emeritus.
How do “civilians” travel on guided tours with Hanna?
“We keep an informal list for people that are interested in traveling with (Hanna) on film trips, but there is no formal travel program — it is all dependent on location and what the filming will entail that decides if/how many people can accompany (him) and the film crew,” Csaszar says.
Rwanda is like a second home for the Hannas, early supporters of the Partners in Conservation , a Columbus Zoo conservation program working to help wildlife and people beneficially co-exist.
“He also talks about (Rwanda) a lot in his speaking engagements,” Csaszar adds.
Return to the wild
This particular trip combined visits to PIC-related conservation and humanitarian projects and filming Rwandan wildlife, Csaszar says.
The itinerary included visits to Ubumwe Community Center , which provides classes for adults and children with disabilities; Bisate School, trekking to see mountain gorillas and golden monkeys in Virunga Mountains, filming with colobus monkeys and at a tea plantation and processing center, both near Nyungwe Forest, filming with a beekeeping cooperative and at a honey processing center at Kitabi.
The week concludes with a game drive, filming of African crane reintroduction and anti-poaching dog training and a boat safari, all in Akagera National Park.
The trip’s segment likely will air during the 2019 season of “Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild,” Csaszar says.
Hanna was traveling and filming and unavailable for comment for this story, according to zoo representatives.
On his Facebook site, Hanna posts trip updates and the trek to see the endangered mountain gorillas.
Trip of a lifetime
Traveling through the Akagera National Park, Loughry says, the group saw lions, zebras, water buffalo, warthogs, giraffes and eagles.
“We rode six hours one day and three hours another and never went on the same road twice,” she says.
“Seeing the gorillas was the highlight. We were right there with them. Same with the golden monkeys,” Loughry says of the hour-long, private visits with the animals.
She also learned about the country. The ground is so rich that most houses’ yards actually are vegetable gardens. “Most families have a minimum of six children,” she adds.
The most common modes of transportation are by foot or by bicycle, Loughry says. It was not uncommon to see a pedestrian or bicyclist grab hold of a moving vehicle and hitch a ride, she adds.
“They have beautiful lakes, but no one could swim in them because of the crocodiles and hippos. There are tons of them, too, not just one or two in a lake,” she says.
There is more traveling in her future, Loughry says, but she’s glad she made the journey to Rwanda when she did.
“I think this might be my last rugged adventure. It was a dream trip of a lifetime,” she says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaryPickels.