Gorilla trekking in Africa

Gorilla trekking in Africa

Gorilla trekking is one of the major wildlife encounters that attract millions of travelers from all over the world to the African continent. To countries like Uganda and Rwanda where mountain gorillas are found, gorilla safaris contribute the larger percentage of income obtained from all tourism activities.

The genesis of gorilla trekking in Africa dates back in 1902 when Germany explorer Robert Von Beringe became the first European to observe mountain gorillas along Mount Sabyinyo in the Virunga Mountains. It was against this background that mountain gorillas were refereed to as Gorilla gorilla beringei by scientist Matschie. In 1925, Albert National Park, which is today’s Virunga National Park was established in eastern DR Congo to study and preserve wildlife by King Albert and it became the first national park in Africa.

How many gorilla species are found in Africa?

mountain gorilals
mountain gorillas

There are two gorilla species in Africa including the western gorilla and the eastern gorilla with each having two gorilla subspecies. The two subspecies of the western gorilla of western lowland gorilla and the Cross River gorilla are found in the equatorial rainforests of West Africa in countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Congo, among others. The subspecies of the eastern gorilla include the eastern lowland gorilla which are found in the lowland forests of eastern DR Congo and the mountain gorilla which is found in the montane rainforests of the Virunga Mountains in eastern DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

Where does gorilla trekking take place in Africa?

Virunga Mountains
Virunga Mountains

Despite the presence of the various gorilla subspecies in Africa, gorilla trekking is much more concentrated with mountain gorillas. Some of the mountain gorilla groups which live in the Virunga Mountains of DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have been successfully habituated, making them get used to the presence of humans unlike other species. Today gorilla trekking takes place in all the 3 national parks within the Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of the 3 countries. These parks include Virunga National Park in DR Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The fourth habitat of mountain gorillas is found further north within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwest Uganda which protects more than half of the global population of mountain gorillas. Currently (2020), the global population of mountain gorillas is estimated tom be around 1,063 individuals. Unlike other gorilla subspecies which are critically endangered, the number of mountain gorillas has been steadily increasing in the past few decades thanks to the combined conservation efforts of both government and non-government wildlife agencies in these countries. Recently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) removed mountain gorillas from its Red List of critically endangered animals following the surging numbers of these great apes in the wild.

All the four mountain gorilla habitats host gorilla trekking safaris throughout the year though the experience is more pronounced in Uganda and Rwanda given the political instability in eastern DR Congo where the country’s mountain gorillas are found.

How are gorilla trekking safaris organized in Africa?

Gorilla safaris
Gorillas in the wild

Given the fact that mountain gorillas are still endangered animals, trekking is highly regulated in order to promote their conservation so that they may continue to thrive in their natural habitats. Gorilla trekking safaris in all the 3 countries are organized in a way that each habituated gorilla family is allocated to be visited by a group of 8 trekkers once per day for one hour and treks usually take place early in the morning. If you want to trek mountain gorillas, you are supposed to book your gorilla safari at least 6 months before your desired date of trekking. This is because the gorilla permits, which allow you to trek are limited in availability and therefore the early booking allows your local tour agent enough time to process one for you. On the day of trekking, all trekkers assemble at the park headquarters early in the morning for briefing about what to expect from the experience and also get some guidelines before they set off for the encounter at around 7: AM. Mountain gorillas live in high altitudes in montane forests and therefore trekkers usually take between 2-6 hours before reaching their allocated gorilla group. Gorilla trekking regulations require trekkers not to get very close to the animals, avoid eye contact with them, not making noise in their presence and avoid littering around their habitat.

How much does it cost to trek mountain gorillas?

The cost of trekking mountain gorillas varies in all the 3 countries. Rwanda’s gorilla permit is the most expensive being sold at $1,500 per person, Uganda’s gorilla permit is sold at $600 per person while DR Congo has the cheapest permit at $450 per person. Rwanda posses an advantage over the other two countries in terms of short distance to the trekking destination, better roads and accommodation facilities and also shorter and less tenacious treks before reaching the gorillas.

Why is gorilla trekking so popular among travellers?

gorilla tracking in uganda
Trekking gorillas

Gorilla trekking has been described by some past trekkers as one of the best wildlife experiences in the world. This is based on a number of factors established after observing them in their natural habitat including their appearance, behaviour like playing, feeding and interacting with one another. However, the experience of trekking gorillas can never be satisfactorily explained to someone who has never undertaken it since these massive primates are very dynamic in their behaviour.

What is the best time to trek gorillas in Africa?

Gorilla safaris are organized throughout the year in all the 3 countries though the experience can be better maximized in the dry seasons of June to September and December to February. The friendly weather conditions in this period make trekking through the rugged forests less difficulty while gorillas are also easily seen since they are moving freely through the forests.

Fast facts about mountain gorillas

Gorillas share about 98 percent of the Human DNA

Mountain gorillas live in social groups of about 15-35 individuals

Each gorilla group is led by a strong and dominant male known as a ‘silverback’ and the rest are mainly several females with their infants and a few young males

Male gorillas usually leave their native groups once they reach maturity at about 15 years to form their own groups

Mountain gorillas mainly feed on bamboo shoots and a few wild fruits

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