Gorilla trekking overview
The mountain gorillas can only be found in three counties and that is Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. There are currently 800 remaining mountain gorillas in the wild and Uganda has half of the total population.
In Uganda, the gorillas can only be found in two national parks of Bwindi Impenetrable forest which is found in Southwestern Uganda, in the mountainous region of the Kigezi sub region, it is approximately 321Km2.The parks’ altitude range between 1,160m – 2,607m above sea level.Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was gazetted in 1991, and in 1994 it was declared a world heritage site, and Mgahinga national park also found in south western Uganda in the district of Kisoro.
Gorilla conservation can be traced back in the 1966 when an American primatologist Diane Fossey started up an extensive study about the gorilla groups. She was passionate about the gorillas and spearheaded their conservation. Unfortunately she was killed in 1985 because of her work. However her work continued to date and her memory still lives on.
In 1993 the park embarked on its first habituation exercise with Mubare gorilla group however, there are other habituated groups, namely;mubare,habiyanja,Rushegura,Bitukura,Oruzogo, mukiza, Nkuringo,Nshongi,Mishaya,Kahungye, Bweza, Busingye, katwe, Nyakagezi, and kyagururo for research.
The parks high altitude makes it extremely cold during the night, and its rainforests, date back over 25,000 years. There are over 400 species of plants species and a variety of wild life, elephants, antelopes, bush pigs, chimpanzee, Colobus Monkey, Baboons, Black and White Monkey, over 220 butterfly species,348 bird species, 27 frog species and most impressive of all the park has over 400 mountain gorillas – approximately half of the world’s population.
Besides gorilla tracking, birding is popular in these parks with birders watching out for African Emerald, Cuckoo, fly catchers, Blue headed sun bird, short tailed warbler and many more, the main birding spots are in Buhoma- Water fall trail bamboo zone and Mubwindi swamp- Ruhija.
These forests were previously inhabited by the Batwa or locally known as the “Abayanda” who were un willingly told to leave the forest when the these forests were gazetted in 1991. They leaved in the forests all their lives and therefore found it hard to adjust to the new life with other communities. Currently there are programs which have been started up to help the Batwa integrate with the communities surrounding the two national parks for example the batwa have benefited from making crafts, performing for the tourists and also their children have been offered schools and hospital services for free.
Due to conservation measures, tourist numbers have been limited to 8 people per group. The tourists spend a maximum of one hour with the gorillas.
Tourists are advised to keep a maximum distance of 8 meters away from the gorillas, this is to prevent transmission of diseases and also avoid attacks, tourists are advised not to use flash photography and also avoid taking voice recording to the forests.
Generally speaking gorilla trekking is one of a life time experience which is treasured by many. In Uganda a gorilla permit currently go for 600 us dollars excluding other costs of accommodation and transport and the permits have to be booked in advance because of the high numbers of visitors. Children of 15 years and below are not allowed to do the trekking.
Gorilla trekking starts very early in the morning and the tourists have to be at the briefing centers by 7:30 am for briefing and thereafter they are allocated to different groups led by an experienced game ranger who will guide them through the gorilla trekking experience. Trekking the gorillas takes between 2 to 8 hours depending on the weather and movement of the gorillas.
Tourists are advised to hire the local potters who will help them with carrying their bags and the potters come in handy when it comes to the stipe slopes where they will help pull and push you, a minimum charge of 15 us dollars is charged, for those needing special stretchers a fee can be negotiated depending on the size and weight of the individual to be carried.
Tourists are also advised to carry along rain jackets and rain proof bags to protect their electronic gadgets as this is a rain forests and rain is expected at all times.
Lastly you are advised to carry enough water and packed lunch which is normally provided by the lodge.
After the gorilla trekking experience tourists normally embark on a cultural tour to visit the local natives leaving around the park boundaries-the local doctor performs his trade and you get to have a taste of the local food, see the how it is prepared, visit forest pygmies commonly known as the Batwa- You also visit the local schools which have directly benefitted from tourism.
All in all the, the Gorilla tracking experience is a life changing experience which is will leave in your memories for years to come.