How to see mountain gorillas in the wild? Although mountain gorillas are now referred to as endangered species, their numbers in the world has multiplied in the past 40 years. Understanding the interrelationship between these biggest primates, the human beings that live near them and if you want to meet them, its better you protect them in order to keep their population rising.
If you want to promote responsible tourism, you should look back at the price of the gorilla permit as it directly and indirectly protects mountain gorillas. Part of the gorilla permit cost is given the national park rangers, guides, veterinarians and trackers who make sure that the mountain gorillas are safe and health in the wild. Another 20% goes to community development, where the benefits are indirect but equally needed to protect the mountain gorillas.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats to mountain gorillas. Human beings staying near the mountain gorillas need land for firewood which is used in cooking, charcoal and subsistence farming. The money that you spend on a gorilla permit, food, hotel and activities helps in getting people clean water, food, cooking fuel, education, healthcare, jobs and a stable political environment.
Mountain gorilla tourism improve the economies of the three countries where they stay by generating revenue to the country hence creating interest in further protection of mountain gorillas. When tourists visit local people and local people benefit from them, the local people won’t attack these animals for poaching or their habitat for human encroachment hence building and interdependent and sustainable tourism industry. Below is what you need to know before planning to see mountain gorillas in the wild
Habituating mountain gorillas to human beings is helping the population of mountain gorillas grow. In 1981, mountain gorilla population was about 254 individuals. The total mountain gorilla population in Uganda is now around 1080 individuals. Bwindi impenetrable forest alone has more than half of the total mountain gorilla population left in the entire world.
DR Congo can’t never be the best country to see mountain gorillas due to political unrest, the best countries to see mountain gorillas are Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda has a total of 20 habituated mountain gorilla families that are open for gorilla trekking with one in Mgahinga national park and 19 in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park, compared to Rwanda with only 10 habituated gorilla families. On average gorilla trekking is very difficult in Uganda most especially in Bwindi impenetrable forest on any day because the mountain gorillas can’t be near the starting points in any of the parks. Trekking in Rwanda is at a more elevation than in Uganda.
Accommodations and gorilla permits costs are cheap in Uganda, with a greater range of accommodation. Driving distance to the national parks in Rwanda is near and the roads are well constructed. English in Uganda is the national language and it’s very easy finding English speaking people at tourist centers than in Rwanda which is a French speaking country. If you track mountain gorillas in Uganda, there are a variety of activities you can engage in such as boat cruises, sport fishing, game viewing, chimpanzee trekking, visiting the source of the Nile and hiking to the top of the falls among others.
Mountain gorilla trekking can be done throughout the year, but it’s very difficult during the rainy season as the roads are slippery. Uganda has two rainy seasons that is from mid – march to May and from October to November. This season there are few tourists that come top Uganda and there are always discounts on accommodations. It rains a few hours but the mud increases making trekking challenging.
The best season to trek mountain gorillas is the dry season which occurs in June to September and from December to February. During this time the lodges are expensive and few spaces are always left. It’s advised to book your gorilla permits in advance if you want to visit Uganda in the high season.
In Rwanda, the rainy season happens in the month of February to May. The only advantage of trekking mountain gorillas in rainy season is that you find them in the shortest time because they feed at a low elevation due to plenty of food available for them hence making trekking easy. In rainy season you will need to battle the mud. The dry seasons in Rwanda happen in June to September and December to February.
You might have come across lowland gorillas in the zoos, but unless you have been doing gorilla trekking at a higher altitude in Central and East Africa, you have never spotted a mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas are only found in 4 national parks in 3 countries that is Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mountain gorillas leave in two separate places of these endangered species. One group stays in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park. The other group lives in the Virunga conservation areas in Virunga Mountains shared by 3 countries that is volcanoes national park of Rwanda, Mgahinga national park of Uganda and Virunga national park of DR Congo. It’s very rare for mountain gorillas to survive in captivity because they prefer staying at an attitude of 7,200 to 14,000 feet above sea level.
If you feel minor sickness like shortness of breath, low energy, fatigue and headache you are likely to move slowly until you see the gorillas. But if you feel all kinds of sickness such as diarrhea and cough which are caused by virus or bacteria, you are not allowed to trek mountain gorillas because they can be transmitted to these endangered species.
If you are sick on before trekking day, you will organize another day or you will be refunded back 50% of the gorilla permit money. But if you show up sick and the ranger determines your illness will harm the mountain gorillas and cancel your participation, there will be no refund.
If you are worried about your health and ability to get through such a difficult hike, you must consider hiring a porter. These porters will not only carry your luggage but they can help to push you over difficult stretches when there is need. You won’t miss out seeing mountain gorillas. These porters are school children looking for fees or were once poachers so they know all forest skills to protect these mountain gorillas. Hiring a porter ranges from $15 – $20.
Every mountain gorilla family has a special group of trackers assigned to them. These trackers are local men and women who were once poachers and know the forest very well and they are well trained park rangers.
Mountain gorillas are difficult to find. They are very mobile throughout the day and sleep in different places each night and they make their nests on the ground. Every early in the morning, a group of trackers is the first to head out in the forest to search for these giant apes starting from where they slept the previous night. They then use radio calls to communicate to the rangers at the starting points so they know which directions to start bringing their tourist.
Trackers follow the trails until they find out the mountain gorillas in the forest with rangers. Trackers keep following the mountain gorilla families while rangers lead tourists to them for a maximum of one hour. Chances of seeing mountain gorillas are over 99% so tourist should be assured of seeing them.
Trackers closely look at these mountain gorillas to see if they are ill, stressed or have injuries and then call veterinarians when necessary. Trackers are also responsible for monitoring pregnancies, births and deaths. They also chase away the poachers, animal traps and other hazards in the forest.
How to see mountain gorillas in the wild? All foreigners and even east African citizens who want to trek mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda must have a passport valid for six months past your planned date of departure from the region. You can apply Ugandan visas online 2 weeks before your final day of travelling although you can obtain it on your day of arrival. Uganda and Rwanda visas are $50 but if you are planning to visit many East African countries, you can apply for an East African visa which works in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda at a fee of $100 plus 3% processing fee.
You will need have to show up your yellow fever vaccination on arrival at the airport. Uganda and Rwanda are malaria countries so you must take antimalarial pills and carry insect repellents to keep away insects like Dengue which causes mosquito – borne diseases.
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