Why you should track Gorillas in Uganda
Tourists while tracking Gorillas

It is well known that only chimpanzees and orangutans have a DNA that is closely related to that of humans, however there are other great apes whose genome is closely related to humans and these are Mountain gorillas.

A mountain gorilla can only survive in the wild, and not any wild, but a small volcanic region located in East Africa and so trekking into their native forests is your only chance you have to catch a peek.

Matter of fact, there are just about 850 mountain gorillas that exist only in the small tropical mountains of East Africa, and gorilla tracking is the only safari activity that provides a once in a life time rare opportunity to observe the everyday interactions of these gentle, mysterious giants.

Found only in East Africa and not anywhere else in the world, Gorillas live in the jungles of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and along the Great Virunga forest that stretches from Southwestern Uganda, Northwestern Rwanda and to the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo covering Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC respectively.

Since the early 80’s, environmentalists and governments have been jealously protecting the mountain gorillas with numbers going up from 254 in 1981 to over 800 in the recent 2018 census, thanks to these efforts anyone can go see them. Since these critically endangered creatures can’t survive in captivity, the only way to see them is by trekking up to their natural habitat, the misty cloudy forests that can reach altitudes of 14,763 feet (4,500 meters).

Going to spend some tiny moment with the mighty gorillas/ track the Gorillas is an arduous trip and not cheap at that. For that reason, we’ve put together important reasons why you should book that flight ticket, get us to arrange your all-inclusive gorilla safari and have you tick that off your bucket list with less hustle.

  • The Gorilla Habituation Experience

Forget tracking the gorillas that give you strictly 60 minutes with a mountain gorilla family when found. If you’re an adventurer, you would want to spend more time with your cousins. That’s what the gorilla habituation experience is for.

An encounter with a silver back (Tracking Gorillas)

Remember, mountain gorillas are wild animals. Though commonly known as gentle giants, the wild is something humans abandoned 70,000 years ago. It can take researchers, doctors, rangers and trackers up-to 5 years to habituate a discovered gorilla group to a point where humans can come spend time with them. Every day is a different one for five years and even after getting habituated, you’re only allowed one hour with them to avoid getting the wild out of them.

If you can take the excitement for four exciting hours with the wild unhabituated mountain gorilla deep into its territory, well why not! For the price US$1500 and you’ll be issued with a gorilla habituation experience permit for you to let your emotions go wild in the Jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable forest.

Uganda should be your next destination and Pearlland Safaris is a perfect operator for an all-inclusive gorilla tour to Uganda. No third parties, no hidden fees but a great selection of great accommodation, travel in a comfortable 4×4 cruiser and eat what surprises only your mind but leaves your belly smiling. Hit this link to start planning your gorilla tour right away.

 

A gorilla permit is invariably expensive to acquire and this is generally because it takes great effort and money to jealously protect the gorillas from poachers, keep them healthy and making sure they flourish in their natural habitat. The gorilla tracking permit is the best option to that cause.

The main competition to Uganda’s gorilla tracking permit is Rwanda. We can arguably rule out DRC for they have been having unresolved conflicts in the region which leaves Rwanda charging a hefty US$1,500 per person. Now if you’re comfortable with spending that high but on the other side Uganda charges less than half of that, US$600 for each gorilla permit which price is set to increase by $100 (US$700) starting July 1, 2020 according to the latest tariff guide.

 However, if you’re sensitive on price, Uganda should be your choice for gorilla tracking. With this price also comes more than 4 choices of gorilla tracking starting points (trail-heads). Bwindi alone gives you 4 starting points that determine the terrain and difficulty of tracking the gorillas. This comes as a bonus for seasoned trackers that want to explore different parts of the forest.

You can also talk to your travel operator and visit some local schools and women groups in the area if you have time on your itinerary. You know, teach a class, hand out gifts or learn a few things for your story telling back home. Either way, leave a piece of you in Africa, don’t just take the whole of you back.

 

  • Chances of sighting other primates along your path.

One other primate that draws crowds to Uganda is the chimpanzee. Primates flourish in this tiny country and most of the research done in the wild has taken place in this primate haven. Kibale Forest National Park for one issues out 72 chimpanzee permits per day. You could easily add Kibale to your gorilla tracking itinerary and spend some time with your distant cousins.

Chimpanzee

One gorilla home you most likely to meet another habituated fella is Mgahinga National Park. Hiking in Mgahinga is like minding your business then which you try to get to the gorillas and then surprise! One of those comical Golden Monkey may cross your path. These little shiny endangered primates live high up in the bamboo zones and tracking them is another activity done in Mgahinga National Park.

L’hoest monkeys, gray-cheeked mangabeys, blue monkeys, Patas monkeys roam around Murchison Falls National Park, chimpanzees and the red-tailed monkey jump high up in the treetops of Queen Elizabeth National Parks Kyambura Gorge. If it’s primates that tickle your joys, Uganda does not disappoint.

 

  • More than half of the last 850 gorillas call Uganda their home.

Compared to Rwanda and DRC, Uganda has lead on having more numbers of gorilla families. Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park alone protects more than 400 gorillas. In addition to that, Uganda has a second gorilla home, Mgahinga National Park that shares borders with DRC and Rwanda’s Virunga and Volcanoes National Parks respectively. Now, gorillas don’t pay mind to political borders, so populations within the Virungas are relatively fluid giving Uganda and edge. Therefore, mountain gorilla sighting can be guaranteed up to 98% chance in Uganda than anywhere else.

A Gorilla Family in Uganda

Spanning an expanse of 331 sq km (128 sq mi), Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the continent’s oldest forests dating back to the ice ages era. Species diversity is a feature of the park, and that’s why it’s listed as a UNESCO heritage site. That is because it provides habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many other endangered species. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern (low elevation) sector has many species of Guineo-Congolian flora, including two endangered species, the brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular, the area shares in the high levels of endemisms of the Albertine Rift.

The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos. And of course it’s most notable for the more than 400 endangered mountain gorillas that find sanctuary in Bwindi Forests. 14 Gorilla groups are habituated and open to tourism in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga and the Nkuringo in the Districts of Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro respectively all under the management of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

 

“The primary threat to mountain gorillas comes from forest clearance and degradation, as the region’s growing human population struggles to earn out a living.” Says the International Gorilla Conservation Program.

The local communities who benefit

Conversion of land for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources such as firewood lead to varying degrees of deforestation. The only way to maintain gorilla habitat is to develop alternative economic activities that allow people to meet their daily needs, so that they see gorillas not as competitors, but as a means of improving their own situation.

Over the last decade Uganda has been a great beneficiary to tourism growth, seeing a number of locals benefiting generously from gorilla trekking safaris with over 20,000 coming to see gorillas annually. But you could make it more than just a number and help out the number of very low income communities that live around the gorilla national parks.

You can hire a porter for one, a local porter will carry your bag for you or even put you on his back if your body energy is used up. The park’s terrain can sometimes be steep and unlevelled, making it really difficult to hike for unseasoned trackers. A local porter will help you navigate the terrain, cross rivers, pull/carry you up steep slopes and muddy inclines.

How about signing up for a Batwa trail hike. The Batwa are the native forest inhabitants that were later relocated and given land outside the park. So the elders occasionally have these trips with tourists through the forest enacting their old ways of survival through the golden years in the forest. For US$100 (solo, less in group), you would relive the Batwa forest history and travel with a cause.

  • Choice of terrain to trek.

Driving through the unending winding roads, rolling slopes and terraced hills for hours to get to the gorilla haven and the shear beauty alone can’t keep you from the thought that trekking that altitude to reach the mountain gorillas is not going to be that simple but a challenge. An adventure of your life that requires you to tick off your list.

Trekking through the rugged terrain

It’s challenging to reach these gentle giants. Sometimes it may require you to hike upwards or downwards depending on your chosen tracking sector and safari accommodation. You’ll be led through thick jungle shrubs, tangles of vines, hundreds of year old fat trees, roots and a damp forest floor just to confirm to you that this territory is untouched.

There are no paths, signs or direction and that’s why you’ll have a tracker with a machete creating a path and an armed guard to protect you from the unplanned eventualities. But the reward of hiking through the jungle with the fear creamed within and the excitement of meeting the Silver back male mountain gorilla anytime, is something I can’t write about in these lines. You just have to get out of your city comfort and come experience it yourself.

Click here to book yourself a Safari of a life time or check below for some Gorilla Safaris of your choice.

15 Day Primate Safari

3 Day Chimpanzee tracking Safari

3 Day Gorilla Trekking Safari

4 Day Primate  Safari

6 Day Primate Safari

By Emmanuel Gambarombo

Comments

January 17, 2020
[…] Gorilla Habituation for research or tourism requires regular, continuous and close human presence near the gorillas in their natural habitat. Researchers usually spend several hours at a time with Gorilla groups, and therefore represent a similar degree of exposure to gorillas as tourists (in person-hours), even though they may not visit gorillas as often as tourists. In addition, occasional emergency veterinary interventions are inevitable and imply staff getting in direct contact with gorillas through clothes, hair and other forms, despite the required use of masks and gloves, thus representing an acute additional source of exposure for Gorilla groups. […]

Leave a Reply