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Get to track mountain gorillas in Uganda via Kigali, Rwanda; travel to the north of Virunga region, to Bwindi impenetrable and Mgahinga gorilla national parks – the two prime gorilla destinations, not only in Uganda but worldwide. Trekking gorillas in Uganda via Kigali is a faster and affordable way to encounter the world’s most sought-after primates than via Entebbe in Uganda. A drive between Kigali and Bwindi takes only 4 hours, while Mgahinga takes only 3 hours, while a drive from Entebbe to Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks takes up to 8 hours, making Kigali an ideal arrival point for travelers intending to visit Uganda’s prime gorilla destinations. Mountain gorillas are among the most fascinating wildlife species in the wild sharing over 98% of their DNA with humans. Trekking to see them is a great re-union between humans and these impressive apes.
On a gorilla trek, you stand a chance to witness how close humans are to these rare primates. Mountain gorillas are sub-species of Eastern gorillas and they exist only in 4 national parks worldwide. To see mountain gorillas in Uganda, the places to consider visiting include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. These 2 protected areas are situated in Southwestern Uganda and they can be reached within 8-10 hours’ drive from Kampala or 3-4 hours’ drive from Kigali - Rwanda with border crossing via Katuna/Chanika borders. Other 2 parks where mountain gorillas live include Virunga National Park in Eastern D.R. Congo and Volcanoes National Park in Ruhengeri Rwanda.
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Currently, there exist only 1063 mountain gorillas on earth and these can be sighted in Uganda, Rwanda or DRC. They are listed among the endangered species and their survival in the wild is still threatened. Scientifically, they are best referred to as Gorilla beringei beringei and they are generally well built with muscular bodies. Males weigh up to 390 pounds while females weigh 250 pounds. They live in groups or families comprising of 3 to 30 mountain gorillas. In every gorilla family, there is a dominant adult male also referred to as silverback gorilla. Female mountain gorillas have the same gestation period (8.5 months) just like humans. An adult male gorilla is stronger than man about 18 times. They are muscular but shy unless irritated, they can charge against you.
One habituated gorilla family group is limited to only 8 visitors each day. The park guides are available to accompany visitors on a trek to see these rare apes. In Uganda, there are 21 habituated gorilla families and these exist in Bwindi (20) and only 1 is in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Rwanda has 10 gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and Congo comprises of 8 groups of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. Yes, tracking mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and D.R. Congo is safe! All treks to see these apes are conducted within the already habituated gorilla families and because they undergo habituation, it means they are used to human presence. On actual gorilla trek, tourists are led by experienced and armed park guides.
What is the difference between gorilla trekking and gorilla tracking?
Gorilla trekking is activity involving visitors navigating through the jungles to view mountain gorillas. A valid gorilla permit is required if you are to participate in this primate adventure. Visitors can spend from 2-6 hours trekking to see gorillas depending on someone’s physical fitness level. During gorilla trekking, visitors follow an assigned group of gorillas with a dedicated park guide in the lead.
Gorilla tracking is a term that denotes monitoring method in which tourists search for a particular gorilla group already habituated. What makes it different from gorilla trekking is that it is normally completed by park rangers or advanced organization with aid of different methods to help locate where gorillas can be and when they are found, what follows is trekking.
What are the chances of viewing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat?
There are higher chances of viewing massive mountain gorillas in their habitat. Tourists have about 99% chance of enjoying great sight of these large apes in the wild. The trekking process has been eased since trackers are sent in advance to find where a gorilla family is before tourists are finally set off to trek.
Why are mountain gorilla permits expensive?
Yes, gorilla permits ae costly but an hour with mountain gorillas is priceless! The charge for permits is expensive because a portion of the fees collected goes to aid conservation activities, paying park rangers, facilitating gorilla doctors’ work who ensure the perfect health of these amazing apes, as well as empowering the neighboring local communities. In Uganda, you can purchase a gorilla permit at US Dollars 700, Rwanda at US Dollars 1500 and in DRC at US Dollars 450.
Gorilla Trekking Rules and Regulations
At the start at each gorilla trekking day, travelers are introduced to the rules and regulations of gorilla trekking. This is during the pre-gorilla trekking briefing which takes place at the headquarters of the respective gorilla national parks. The rules and regulations of gorilla trekking have been put by conservation bodies in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Also known as dos and don’ts, gorilla trekking rules have been put to ensure safety of the endangered gorillas and travelers themselves. Gorilla watching is the most done travel activity in Africa which attracts huge volumes of travelers to Bwindi Forest / Mgahinga Gorilla National parks, Volcanoes National park and Virunga National park in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively.
Travelers are warmed to follow these rules to ensure a peaceful and enjoyable gorilla trek. Mountain gorillas are endangered species which share over 99% of human genes making them susceptible to human communicable illnesses. Some of the rules apply before meeting gorillas while others apply when with the gorillas. Conservation bodies who put gorilla trekking rules and regulations are Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Uganda, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda and the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature (ICCN) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rules and regulations of gorilla trekking in Africa include among others:
Before meeting the gorillas:
When with the gorillas:
Other rules and regulations that govern Africa’s National parks
In addition to gorilla dos and don’ts, check other rules in other national parks and protected areas in African parks. This applies to travelers who want to combine gorilla trekking with other wildlife experiences especially game viewing. These include:
Bwindi Gorilla Habituation Experience: What does gorilla habituation mean?
Gorilla habituation experience is a general term that means a process in which gorillas are made to get used to human presence. The process usually takes 2 years more or less depending on how fast they can get accustomed to human being before they are opened up for gorilla trekking. While on a gorilla trip, there is possibility to participate in mountain gorilla habituation experience and this is provided for only in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The activity attracts mostly scientists, conservationists, researchers and trackers.
This exceptional experimental training or taming of wild mountain gorillas is meant to make them familiar and comfortable with human beings around them. Gorilla habituation experience is a first step all gorillas go through before they are declared free and open for travelers to trek. The experience gives travelers a chance to take part in training gorillas unlike in trekking where a traveler just watches from a distance. Travelers hike along with a team of conservationists, gorilla doctors, researchers and armed park rangers to meet the wild gorillas.
The team imitates gorilla activities such as eating vegetation, walking on arms and climbing trees which make it more fun and enjoyable. Within the 2-3 years, the team responsible for gorilla habituation must visit the gorilla family undergoing habituation everyday with or without travelers.
Where to do gorilla habituation experience?
The experimental experience is only done in Rushaga sector, south of Bwindi impenetrable National park. Every traveler who therefore wants to take part in this magical experience must visit Rushaga sector in south eastern Uganda. Apparently, 2 gorilla families (Bushaho and Bikingi) are undergoing habituation and will be opened soon for trekking.
The already habituated gorilla families in Rushaga sector include Mishaya family, Kahungye group, Busingye family, Bweza family and Nshongi gorilla group. Rushaga sector is home to the highest number of habituated gorilla families hence the best place for gorilla trekking in Uganda.
Cost of Gorilla Habituation Experience?
Each traveler intending to take part in gorilla habituation experience is required to have a permit. A single gorilla habituation experience permit costs $1500 for foreign non-residents, $1000 for foreign residents and UGX 750,000 for Ugandans and East African residents.This cost is far higher than the normal gorilla trekking permit which costs $700 for foreign nonresidents, $600 for foreign residents and UGX 250,000 for East African residents. However, the $1500 for gorilla habituation experience is surely worth it.
How many people are allowed during Gorilla Habituation Experience?
Each day, only four people are allowed to visit one gorilla family undergoing habituation experience unlike in gorilla trekking where a single gorilla family is visited by 8 people a day. This guarantee availability of 8 gorilla habituation permits issued everyday on first come first serve basis.
Allowed time for gorilla habituation experience
Mountain gorilla habituation experience allows a traveler to spend up to four hours with the endangered gorillas unlike gorilla trekking where travelers only spend an hour with the gorillas. This gives them extended time to learn, train and observe the social characters of gorillas in their families. However, travelers can spend over 8 hours in the jungle. The four hours are counted from the time travelers set their eyes on the endangered gorillas.
When and how to book for a gorilla habituation permit in Uganda?
6 months before the habituation experience day is the ideal time for booking a gorilla habituation experience permit. This is due to the high demand and low supply of habituation permits in Uganda. Travelers intending to do this memorable experience are therefore advised to book in advance to avoid last minute disappointments. Regarding how to book a gorilla habituation experience, you can directly contact Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), a government body responsible for wildlife / mountain gorilla conservation, trekking and habituation in Uganda. Alternatively, you can book through any trusted travel operator offering gorilla habituation packages to Bwindi Forest.
Best time for gorilla habituation experience
Dry season from June to October and December to February is regarded as the best time to do gorilla habituation experience. This season is normally dry with les or no rains at all. This eases movements through the jungle forests of Bwindi with thick bushes and wet grounds. Also, the dry season is best for photography. However, gorilla habituation experience can be done throughout the year. Wet season in March, April, May, October and November normally attracts discounted offers from service providers especially lodges and hotels.
What to pack for gorilla habituation experience?
Spending over half a day in the jungle forest is not a joke! You ought to pack the basics to ensure and enjoyable and less stressing gorilla habituation experience. You packing list for habituation experience should include hiking boots/shoes, gardening gloves, long pants, long sleeved shirts / blouses, sun glass, hat, rain jacket and insect repellants. Also, remember to pack enough drinking water and energy giving snacks to keep you strong throughout. A porter and walking stick are also highly recommended for everyone coming for a gorilla habituation experience.
Gorilla habituation add-ons!
The other travel activities you can add on your habituation experience include gorilla trekking, nature walks, bird watching and community tours. These together make a complete Uganda safari package to Bwindi impenetrable National park. Gorilla habituation experience is a lifetime experience worth doing. Book now, spend extended time with the endangered gorillas and enjoy this magical encounter!