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Gorilla Trekking FAQs

As you may be preparing for your gorilla safari, here is everything you need to know about trekking the endangered mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo (DRC) including gorilla trekking rules and regulations, gorilla permits, gorilla families, trekking time, gorilla habituation among others.

What are mountain gorillas?
Mountain gorillas are subspecies of the larger group of the eastern gorilla. They are large strong apes living in high altitude areas of Africa’s volcanic slopes. Mountain gorillas are known to be shy and strong though they can be aggressive when threatened.

Where are mountain gorillas found?
Mountain gorillas are found in only two locations in the world, the Virunga Mountains shared by three countries, Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo and in Bwindi Impenetrable national park in Uganda. The gorillas in the Virunga mountains are protected within three neighboring parks each located in one of the three countries, that is Virunga National Park (DRC), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda). Another park hosting mountain gorillas outside the Virunga Mountain is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda inhabiting more than half of the global population of mountain gorillas.

How many mountain gorillas are there?
The recent estimates from the gorilla census done by the indicate that there are about 1,004 gorillas in the world.

Why are mountain gorillas endangered?
Mountain gorillas are described as endangered animals because of the threats they face that are harmful to their well-being and habitat. Mountain gorillas face detrimental human activity including poaching, civil war and habitat destruction.

Where and when can I trek mountain gorillas?
Mountain gorilla trekking is done every day in all parks within the three countries, Rwanda Uganda and Congo. The dry season (June to September and December to February) is the most ideal for tracking mountain gorillas basically due to weather conditions. Since gorillas live in high altitude areas, the ground tends to be muddy and slippery in the rain season making trekking hard. Likewise, gorillas rarely move in the rain hence sighting them can take a long time unlike in the dry season when they are moving freely all day long.

How can I obtain a gorilla permit?
A gorilla permit allows you to trek the mountain gorillas. In Uganda gorilla permits are sold by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) at $600 each while in Rwanda they are sold by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) at $1,500 each. The easiest way of obtaining a gorilla permit is by booking through a local tour agent. The agent buys the permit from the tour authority on your behalf and arranges other necessary requirements for your trip including accommodation and transport.

What is gorilla habituation?
Gorilla habituation is the process that involves getting wild mountain gorillas used to human beings and settling them into groups that are trekked by tourists. Gorilla habituation is done every day in Bwindi Impenetrable national park and tourists who want to take part can pay $1500. The process lasts for four hours each day. Tourists who take part in gorilla habituation get more comprehensive experience given the long time spent with the apes compared to those who do only trekking that lasts for only an hour.

How many groups of mountain gorillas are there?
Mountain gorillas have been habituated into groups/families for trekking in both Uganda and Rwanda. There are up to 15 gorilla groups in Bwindi that are ready for trekking. Each gorilla group consists of between 15-35 individuals that are led by a strong silverback (male gorilla). The arrangement is the same even in Rwanda’s Volcanoes national only that here there are 12 habituated groups. Authorities in both in both parks allocate each gorilla group to be trekked by a group of 8 tourists for one hour each day.

Which destination is the best for trekking mountain gorillas?
The experience of trekking mountain gorillas is incredible in all the three countries. Apart from the political instability that had led to the temporary closure of Virunga national park in Congo due to security concerns, there are no other major hindrances in the park. The main difference among the three gorilla trekking destinations is that of the gorilla permit price. Rwanda’s gorilla permit is the most expensive at $1,500, in Uganda it is sold at $600 while Congo is the cheapest at $450. Distance may also be another factor to consider. Most visitors from Europe and USA arrive at Kigali International Airport in Kigali. It takes you only 2 and a half hours to drive from Kigali to Volcanoes national park, Rwanda’s gorilla trekking destination while additional 2 hours are enough to crossover to Bwindi, Uganda’s main gorilla trekking area. Not very many tourists go to Congo from either Uganda or Rwanda due to the long distance though interested travelers can fly to Kinshasa and then to Goma, the Eastern town near Virunga national park.

How difficult is gorilla trekking?
Trekking mountain gorillas require a level of fitness but it is one’s curiosity to see the gorillas that makes everything possible. Your curiosity will drive you through the rough terrain and beat all weather conditions in order to make it to where the mountain gorillas are. However, this should not cause any worries to anyone planning to trek the gorillas. Many old people including those in their seventies have made to the gorillas and therefore everyone can. There are porters who are always ready to help trekkers by carrying their day pack and they can also carry the trekkers themselves if they are tired and need help. You should part with extra $20 if you are considering using a porter.

How much time can I spend with mountain gorillas?
You allowed to spend one full hour with a habituated gorilla group. The time restricted to one hour due to conservation measures keeping it in mind that gorillas are wild animals and therefore they need their privacy to do their wild activities. Sometimes you guide may allow you some extra time with the apes especially if you have had a long trek to reach them.

How close can I get to mountain gorillas?
Trekkers are advised to stay at least 7 meters away from the gorillas. However, in most cases gorillas themselves violate this regulation by coming closer to you but you should try and maintain this distance. Keeping a distance away from the helps to protect them from contracting any infections from humans. Do not touch the gorilla though it may be enticing to do so as they come close to you.

How dangerous are mountain gorillas?
Mountain gorillas are generally gentle giants, they are not aggressive and in most cases they ignore tourists completely. However, since mountain gorillas are wild animals, they may be potentially dangerous especially when teased. Trekkers are advised to always avoid getting in-between a baby gorilla and its mother and to maintain silence while in the presence of the gorillas.

What is the minimum age for trekking mountain gorillas?
In both Uganda and Rwanda, the minimum age for trekking mountain gorillas is 15 years. The age is always verified by park authorities by checking the passports of trekkers.

Where can I stay near the gorillas on my gorilla safari?
There are accommodation facilities including lodges, hotels and tented camps near the gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda and Rwanda. Lodges also offer a range of other services to clients including accommodation, recreation and transport. The accommodation facilities around the parks range from budget to midrange to luxury, therefore all travelers can get where to stay while on their gorilla safari.

Are there any other types of gorillas?
Yes. Besides mountain gorillas, there are also lowland gorillas that are commonly found in the rainforests of central Africa. Lowland gorillas cannot be found in Uganda and Rwanda but they can be found in Eastern DR Congo in Kahuzi-Biega national park. They can also be seen in Cameroon, Senegal, Gabon and Central African Republic though they are widely hunted for bushmeat and few groups are habituated for tourists.

What else can I see while on my gorilla safari in Uganda or Rwanda?
Well, there are a variety of other wildlife to see while on your gorilla trekking safari in both Uganda and Rwanda. For instance, in Bwindi Impenetrable national park in Uganda, there are a variety of other primate species in the forest including the commonly seen black and white colobus monkeys, L’hoest’s, red tailed, blue monkeys and baboons. A variety of birds can also be seen in Bwindi including 23 Albertine Rift Endemic species. Other animal species in the park include elephants, bushbuck antelopes and forest duiker’s antelopes. Tourists interested in tracking more primates in Uganda can continue to Mgahinga national park with a variety of primates including the park’s common golden monkeys.
In Volcanoes national park in Rwanda besides mountain gorillas trekkers can also come across a variety of wildlife species including buffalos, bushbucks, black fronted duikers, spotted hyenas, bush pigs and primates like baboons, black and white colobus, golden monkeys and red-tailed monkeys. The park is also a home to over 300 bird species including Albertine Rift endemics.

What do I need to carry for gorilla trekking?
For a successful gorilla safari, you may need to pack a few stuff including a pair of gloves and study clothing to protect your body from thorns ad nettles. Solid or hiking boots are important especially in slippery conditions, a good camera, water and a walking stick for balance are all very important.

What are some of the key dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking?
• Avoid making noise in the presence of gorillas
• Don’t throw anything including food at gorillas
• Don’t touch gorillas
• Always keep some distance away from the gorillas
• Avoid teasing or provoking gorillas
• Don’t litter, urinate or defecate in the surrounding of the gorillas
• Avoid using flash cameras when taking photos of gorillas

Fast tips for an incredible gorilla safari experience
• Book your gorilla permit in advance (at least 6 months) to allow smooth preparation and avoid last-minute panic.
• Book your safari through a trusted local tour agent. The agent will organize your gorilla permit, assign you a good guide, transport and accommodation.
• Consider hiring a porter
• Talk to your agent about your preferences including your physical ability, preferred sector or tracking, any health issues, among others.
• Don’t forget to carry the necessary gear including hiking boots, gloves, camera and thick clothes.
• Be ready and willing to follow the advice from your guide
• Don’t hesitate to ask your guide anything you may want to know including areas outside gorilla trekking.
• Carry packed food and water from your lodge since trekking gorillas may last for a couple of hours.

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