No other wildlife encounter in Africa matches the astounding experience of spending time face-to-face with wild gorillas. Gorilla Trekking takes place in a handful of far-flung locations, adding a layer of exotic adventure to these safaris that is hard to match on any other itinerary. The fact that gorillas as a species are on the brink of extinction and treks are a highly restricted activity, encountering wild gorillas is considered a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
To watch a family of mountain gorillas relaxing in their lush forest home is an awe-inspiring privilege and a memory you would take away and remember forever. Sharing around 97% of their DNA with humans, it isn’t surprising to feel a bond with them. Mothers carefully watch their babies as they inquisitively take a few steps, older youngsters or ‘teenagers’ by any other name, rough and tumble together without a care, whilst the massive silverback often sits quietly to one side, taking in everything going on around him.
There are only several hundred (880 in 2016) mountain gorillas remaining on Earth, and about half live in the forests of the Virunga Mountains in central Africa. These gorillas live on the green, volcanic slopes of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tourists can trek mountain gorillas from selected conservation parks including Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest & Mgahinga National Park, Virunga National Park in Congo and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
Quick Mountain Gorilla Facts
COMMON NAME: Mountain Gorilla
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Gorilla beringei beringei
GROUP NAME: Troop, band
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN IN THE WILD: 35 years
SIZE: Standing height, 4 to 6 ft
WEIGHT: 300 to 485 lbs (136 to 220 Kgs)
SIZE: 4 to 5 ½ feet when standing on two feet
The History of Gorilla Tourism
Uganda & Rwanda Gorilla Habituation Experience
Uganda Wildlife Authority has introduced gorilla habituation experience in Rushaga region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Tourists can now move with researchers to experience how mountain gorillas are habituated. Apparently, this experience is still at a mock stage and can be booked by contacting the Warden in Rushaga. The price for mountain gorilla habituation experience is now at USD1500.00 and one can stay for up to four hours.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience can be booked in Uganda since 2016.
Trekking Mountain Gorillas is a lifetime dream for many travellers to Uganda and Rwanda. The Habituation Experience gives you an opportunity to spend 4hours with Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Introduced in 2015 and available for a very limited duration of only 2-3 years is the gorilla habituation experience in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. In order to become habituated to the presence of tourists, each gorilla group has undergone an extremely delicate process, lasting around five years, gradually getting accustomed to the presence of humans. Park rangers start off by spending a short period of time with the gorillas every day, at a certain distance that represents the limit of the gorillas’ comfort zone. As the years go by, they gradually increase the time and reduce the distance until they deem the gorillas ready for paying clients to visit them. The gorilla habituation experience for the first time allows paying clients to participate in this process. It is limited to two gorilla families in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bukingyi and Bushaho, in the Rushaga sector of the park. Due to the steep terrain, dense vegetation and high altitudes a high level of fitness is required.
Gorilla habituation is the process through which a gorilla family get used to human visits. When there were plans to introduce gorilla tourism in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the remaining task was to make sure that the mountain gorillas get used to visits by tourists. Remember the gorillas were living in the forest and were not used to human visit.
A gorilla habituation process takes a period of 2-3 years and it involves an advance team from the Uganda Wildlife Authority making frequent visits to the gorilla family. Upon establishing that the group is used and welcoming to tourists, the gorilla family becomes ready for tourists’ visits.
Facts about gorilla habituation experience
Why is gorilla habituation experience not included in UWA Tariffs?
Gorilla habituation experience is currently not included in UWA tariffs because it is under mock stage. Currently it costs USD1500.00 per person and when this is approved, it will be included in UWA tariffs.
How long do you spend with gorillas during gorilla habituation experience?
If you book a permit for gorilla habituation, you will be allowed to spend four hours with mountain gorillas under habituation. These four hours excludes the time you spend to reach the gorillas.
When does gorilla habituation experience start?
Unlike gorilla trekking which starts at 8:30 am, mountain gorilla habituation starts at 7:30am and briefing is done much earlier.
Can I do gorilla habituation experience in any region of Bwindi?
Gorilla habituation experience is currently possible in Rushaga located on the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. It is thus not possible in Buhoma or Ruhija side of the forest. This is because currently, it is only in Rushaga that we have two mountain gorilla families being habituated as compared to other regions which do not have gorilla families under habituation. For those interested in this experience should be ready to go to the south and book accommodation closer to Rushaga since this activity requires an early start.
What is included in gorilla habituation experience permit?
This includes rangers, researchers and spending four hours with mountain gorillas under habituation. It also includes park entrance fees for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
How different is gorilla trekking from gorilla habituation?
There so many differences between gorilla trekking and gorilla habituation. Gorilla trekking costs USD600.00 and you get to spend only one hour with habituated mountain gorillas. Gorilla habituation costs USD1500.00 allowing you to spend four hours with mountain gorillas still under habituation. It only takes place in regions that have mountain gorillas under habituation and as of now, its only in Rushaga where new gorilla groups of Bikingi and Bushaho are under habituation.
What is the minimum age for Gorilla Habituation Experience?
The minimum age for gorilla habituation is 15 years and above and all the book guidelines are same as those for gorilla trekking. In terms of numbers, gorilla habituation is limited to only four people.
The mountain gorilla is highly social and lives in relatively stable, cohesive groups held together by long-term bonds between adult males and females. Relationships among females are relatively weak. These groups are non territorial; the silverback generally defends his group rather than his territory. In the Virunga mountain gorillas, the average length of tenure for a dominant silverback is 4.7 years.
61% of groups are composed of one adult male and a number of females and 36% contain more than one adult male. The remaining gorillas are either lone males or exclusively male groups, usually made up of one mature male and a few younger males. Group sizes vary from five to thirty, with an average of ten individuals. A typical group contains: one dominant silverback, who is the group’s undisputed leader; another subordinate silverback (usually a younger brother, half-brother, or even an adult son of the dominant silverback); one or two black backs, who act as sentries; three to four sexually mature females, who are ordinarily bonded to the dominant silverback for life; and from three to six juveniles and infants.
Most males, and about 60% of females, leave their natal group. Males leave when they are about 11 years old, and often the separation process is slow: they spend more and more time on the edge of the group until they leave altogether. They may travel alone or with an all-male group for 2–5 years before they can attract females to join them and form a new group. Females typically emigrate when they are about 8 years old, either transferring directly to an established group or beginning a new one with a lone male. Females often transfer to a new group several times before they settle down with a certain silverback male.
The dominant silverback generally determines the movements of the group, leading it to appropriate feeding sites throughout the year. He also mediates conflicts within the group and protects it from external threats. When the group is attacked by humans, leopards, or other gorillas, the silverback will protect them even at the cost of his own life. He is the centre of attention during rest sessions, and young gorillas frequently stay close to him and include him in their games. If a mother dies or leaves the group, the silverback is usually the one who looks after her abandoned offspring, even allowing them to sleep in his nest. Experienced silverbacks are capable of removing poachers’ snares from the hands or feet of their group members.
When the silverback dies or is killed by disease, accident, or poachers, the family group may be disrupted. Unless there is an accepted male descendant capable of taking over his position, the group will either split up or adopt an unrelated male. When a new silverback joins the family group, he may kill all of the infants of the dead silverback. Infanticide has not been observed in stable groups.
Analysis of mountain gorilla genomes by whole genome sequencing indicates that a recent decline in their population size has led to extensive inbreeding. As an apparent result, individuals are typically homozygous for 34% of their genome sequence. Furthermore, homozygosity and the expression of deleterious recessive mutations as consequences of inbreeding have likely resulted in the purging of severely deleterious mutations from the population.
Although strong and powerful, the mountain gorillas are generally gentle and very shy. Severe aggression is rare in stable groups, but when two mountain gorilla groups meet, the two silverbacks can sometimes engage in a fight to the death, using their canines to cause deep, gaping injuries. For this reason, conflicts are most often resolved by displays and other threat behaviours that are intended to intimidate without becoming physical.
The ritualized charge display is unique to gorillas. The entire sequence has nine steps: (1) progressively quickening hooting, (2) symbolic feeding, (3) rising biped ally, (4) throwing vegetation, (5) chest-beating with cupped hands, (6) one leg kick, (7) sideways running four-legged, (8) slapping and tearing vegetation, and (9) thumping the ground with palms . Jill Donisthorpe stated that a male charged at her twice. In both cases the gorilla turned away, when she stood her ground.
The midday rest period is an important time for establishing and reinforcing relationships within the group. Mutual grooming reinforces social bonds, and helps keep hair free from dirt and parasites. It is not as common among gorillas as in other primates, although females groom their offspring regularly. Young gorillas play often and are more arboreal than the large adults. Playing helps them learn how to communicate and behave within the group. Activities include wrestling, chasing, and somersaults. The silverback and his females tolerate and even participate if encouraged.
Twenty-five distinct vocalizations are recognized, many of which are used primarily for group communication within dense vegetation. Sounds classified as grunts and barks are heard most frequently while travelling, and indicate the whereabouts of individual group members. They may also be used during social interactions when discipline is required. Screams and roars signal alarm or warning, and are produced most often by silverbacks. Deep, rumbling belches suggest contentment and are heard frequently during feeding and resting periods. They are the most common form of intergroup communication.
For reasons unknown, mountain gorillas that have been studied appear to be naturally afraid of certain reptiles. Infants, whose natural behaviour is to chase anything that moves, will go out of their way to avoid chameleons and caterpillars. They are also afraid of water and will cross streams only if they can do so without getting wet, such as by crossing over fallen logs. Dian Fossey observed and noted the mountain gorilla’s obvious dislike of rain, as well
Best Time to go Gorilla Trekking
Uganda’s raised topography means a cooler climate than its equatorial setting suggests but if you’re planning a gorilla trek on your honeymoon, it’s important to know when to go to Uganda for the easiest trekking conditions. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Uganda for gorilla trekking is during the country’s two dry seasons: January and February and from June to September.
Game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons – February and March and September/early October – when wildlife is concentrated around water sources. Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. April and May, even when considered the rainy season, its great time to visit Uganda and the Gorillas. The views are stunning and it rains mostly in the afternoon for 1 hr and not tempering with activities.
Uganda Gorilla Tracking Permits
To visit the groups of Mountain Gorillas you must first obtain a tracking permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala.
Members of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators are able to purchase permits up to 2 years from the month of tracking. East African Safaris On Ground helps many of our visitors to obtain permits for either the Nkuringo, Bushasho, Nshongi, MIshaya, Bweza Kahungye or Busingye groups on the south side of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Gorilla groups on the Buhoma sector of Bwindi where availability exists. Contact us should you require this service.
Each Gorilla Permit costs USD 600.00 and we charge USD30- facilitation fee per tracking permit. We cannot make tentative bookings for tracking permits with Uganda Wildlife Authority. All bookings we make with Uganda Wildlife Authority we must support with payment in cash at the time of making the reservation with them.
Gorilla tracking fees
Non- Resident USD 600
East African Resident USD 500
East African Citizen UGX 250,000
No persons under 15 years of age may trek Gorillas
Gorilla tracking begins at 08.30. Arrive at least 15 minutes prior to this for registration.
Rates do include park fee, guide fee a certificate of trekking and community levy.