The Mountain Gorilla (gorilla beringei beringei) is one of two subspecies of Eastern Gorillas and is one of our closest living relatives. It is only found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, on the confluence of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC. A census taken in 2003 has shown a 17% increase in population size since 1989. There are now a total of approximately 720 gorillas split up into their own social/ family groups. The amount of gorillas in a social group varies and can range from 5 gorillas to 46 gorillas. The Mountain Gorilla continues to be considered critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. It faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild due to habitat loss, poaching, human disease, and war.
Some notes on Gorilla Trekking:
Trekking cost: The prices of trekking permits fluctuate and may change without prior notice – currently (Jan ’12) they are priced at US$600 depending on where we trek. There is a local transport & handling fee of US$65 to US$70 per person (this covers the return transfer and the Wildlife Authority’s booking fee). For trekking in the DRC or Rwanda, we will also have to purchase an additional visa to enter either country, as well as renewing our Ugandan visa upon re-entry. Please budget accordingly.
Trekking Procedures: A visit to these gentle giants in their natural environment is a unique and wonderful experience – one you’ll never forget. The park rangers monitor the gorillas daily and have a fairly good idea of where they are. However, they are free-roaming animals, and their sighting cannot be guaranteed. As the gorillas share much of our DNA, anyone with even the slightest cold or transferable illness will not be permitted to trek (yellow fever inoculations are also compulsory). Trekking is also only open to people over 16 years old.
Due to the restrictions on the daily numbers of visitors to these incredible animals, we depart from our base in Bunyoni in small groups over 3-4 days, depending on the group size. Winding our way through arguably some of the most picturesque scenery in Africa, we head to the town of Kisoro where we spend the night (Should we be trekking in Rwanda our overnight will be in Ruhengeri). The following morning, after packing our picnic lunch, we are transferred to a ranger’s station where the trek commences. Your rangers will lead you through the cultivated lands and then into the dense rain forest and on to a gorilla family. Trekking can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 10 hours and it can be quite strenuous, so a reasonable level of fitness is required. To ensure the gorillas do not get too used to the presence of humans and because they share many of our genes (and therefore able to catch our diseases), the maximum time permitted to spend with them is 1 hour. You will have plenty of time to watch their activity and to take photographs. The rangers will be able to provide you with a background to the family you are visiting. Once your hour is up, you trek back out of the rain forest to your meeting point where you will be transferred back to the Lake Bunyoni campsite.
You needn’t feel like you’re exploiting these animals. The ever-growing number of tourists trekking them each day plays a vital role in their survival. For years they have been ruthlessly hunted for their hands and heads, which have been sold as ashtrays and lampshades! In addition, large numbers have been killed whilst trying to stop poachers stealing the babies for sale to zoos, where they have never lived long. 100% of the gorilla permit cost is used by the parks authorities to finance patrols that are instrumental in protecting the gorillas from poachers and their lethal snares and on promoting these wonderful animals.
What to take on the trek: You will need to wear comfortable hiking/walking shoes as you spend a lot of time walking. Wear long pants, a long sleeve top and take a rain jacket with as you are in the dense jungle so you can get a bit wet. You will be doing a bit of “bushwhacking” so bring along a pair of gloves to protect your hands. There are stinging nettles, which can irritate your hands more than damage them! You will take a small daypack with you when trekking containing a packed lunch, which you will stop en route for (this is prepared in the morning before leaving the campsite). Also concerning cameras – no flash photography is allowed, so bring along a 400 or 800-speed film to be able to get the best photos without a flash. When you find the Gorilla family you will leave your daypacks in a spot and then take only your camera with you. The minimum age for trekking is 16 years, however, the trek is recommended for 18 and over.