Mountain gorillas are limited to only the Virunga regions of Africa-especially areas of high altitude. Mountain gorillas tend to relate so much to human character like; they do live / stay in families just like those of humans. Many people travel to Africa to see mountain gorillas in the wild on an activity refered to as gorilla trekking or gorilla tracking!
Where to Go?
There are only three countries in the world where mountain gorillas can be found; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Today gorilla trekking is the major tourism activity in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. From most travel advisories, Rwanda and Uganda are safe destinations to travel in Africa. Though most countries advise against travel in Congo, since the chase out of the M23 Rebels from Congo last year, Virunga national park has been open for gorilla trekking and many travelers have visited the gorillas in this country. However at Africa Tourism Portal we advise all those who wish to travel to Congo to use a local tour operator given that they are more informed of the safety and security conditions in the country.
Why Go Gorilla Trekking?
Gorilla trekking is one of the best wildlife experiences in Africa! It is a once in a lifetime adventure and it is fast growing as a must do for every visitor to Uganda, Rwanda or Congo! Whether you are travelling to Africa for the first time or not you will enjoy a gorilla watching experience!
Gorilla Trekking is also part of the initatives that heave been taken to promote conservation of the mountain gorillas. Today it is the largest generator of revenue to both Uganda and Rwanda.
Apart from the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, there is a lot to see and to enjoy on a safari in Africa including birds, wildlife, natural scenery, rich culture, mountains and many more. Conservationists in Africa are looking forward to a bright future for the mountain gorillas.
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Uganda is blessed to host nearly a half of the total remaining population of the mountain gorillas. According to a census conducted last year, Uganda’s endangered apes have increased in number from 302 to 400 between 206 and 2011, hence the total number of gorillas in Africa is now at 880 individuals. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the increase proves without uncertainty that Uganda’s conservation efforts are paying off and is testimony to the sound natural resource management policies that are being implemented in the protected areas.”
By putting some of the revenue into local projects, converting formerly hostile groups into friendly advocates for the gorillas’ survival, Ugandan wildlife officials have been able to build successful partnerships with local communities. The endangered mountain gorillas have their home in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga gorilla National park found in the south western part of the country and in other parts that’s Rwanda and Congo. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. A gorilla tour permit goes for 600USD per person in Uganda and during some off peak season, the permits can e discounted to USD350 per permit. According to Mike Cornfield of Gorilla Doctors, “the mountain gorilla is the only non-human great ape that is actually growing in number and the growth of the mountain gorilla population can be attributed to the intensive conservation and collaboration between multiple conservation groups and government authorities.”
The increase in population growth was partly due to “extreme conservation” methods such as daily ranger monitoring in the forest, this is according to the conservation group Gorilla Doctors. The inauguration of gorilla tourism has also helped in conserving the mountain gorillas and some of the funds got from gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park goes to conservation of the gorillas and also help in supporting the local communities that live adjacent to the forest.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National park is the major tourism activity that dominate the country’s tourism sector. Every year with thousands visit Rwanda to track the shy gentle giants in this park located in the northern part of the tourism. One of the factors that make Rwanda a favorite destination is the closeness of the park to Kigali, the major entry point to the country. The park is located about 117km from Kigali, a distance of only 2 hours drive. This makes short gorilla treks of 1 or 2 days possible unlike in other destinations where gorillas are found; Bwindi Forest lies in 10 hours drive from Kampala and the Virunga in Congo has been faced with several conflicts.
Gorilla tourism was introduced in Rwanda in the 1970s and it was the first country to allow tourist to go gorilla trekking. Today there are ten habituated gorilla groups and only eight tourists are allowed to view a particular gorilla family. In total eighty gorilla permits are available each day and it is advisavle to book the gorilla permits early enough to avoid disappointment!
The country also introduced a world famed Baby Gorilla naming Ceremony the Kwita Izina which attracts visitors from all over the world every year in June.
How Are Gorilla Permits Allocated?
Although the current mountain gorilla population is about 880, gorilla trekking is only done within the habituated mountain gorilla families.
There are 10 habituated families (2015) that live in Rwanda’s Parc National Des Volcans,
There are 14 gorilla groups (as of 2015) in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park, 1 in Mgahinga National Park and
Congo (DRC) has 6 habituated gorilla groups found in the Virunga National Park
On all gorilla treks only 8 persons are allowed to visit a given gorilla family group per day. Much as it may seem equal, because they are all mountain gorillas, Those of Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda do have a minor difference as compared to other mountain gorillas because its gorillas are the most wholly habituated, and they are often found in bamboo woods unlike those of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable rainforest, usually found in the dense forest which makes photographing easier.
For one to take a mountain gorilla trekking trip, he / she must be provided with a trekking group, which is usually given in consideration of one’s physical fitness, health status, age- in terms of strength, weakness and capability.
For the case of Rwanda, these gorilla family groups and permits are always allocatedon the day of your trek based on age, health and fitness of tourists as well as their interests. It is done through the early morning gorilla trek meeting or briefing where those who are stronger and adventurous are allotted hard families while those who are weaker, elderly as well as less physically fit are allotted to groups which are close by and simpler to trek.
But this is not the case for Uganda. Gorilla permits and groups are allotted on a first-come first-serve basis without putting into account their visitor’s statuses like; age, health and fitness along with other essential variables. And this has made mountain gorilla tracking in Rwanda more adaptable than in Uganda where you must have a great stamina (more physical effort is required).