‘Africa’s gentle giants’
The mountain Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla berengie) remains the worlds most rare and critically endangered fully developed senses like humans. Humans share 97% of the same genes with Gorillas and 98% with chimpanzees.
There are total of 880 mountain gorillas in the world (census 2012). 480 mountain gorillas in the Virunga massif which comprises Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda),Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (DRC),and now the 400 which has been confirmed in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is entirely in Uganda
There are 36 gorilla families in Bwindi and 16 solitary males. Of the 36 troupes, 10 are habituated for tourism and research.
Mountain gorillas live in family troupe that vary in size from 5 to 35 members. A troupe is made up of one or two adult males (aged 12 and above, called silverbacks), several younger males (named Black backs), adult females, juveniles and infants. The dominant silverback (identified by the saddle of silvery white hair on his back) leads the group’s daily movements in search for food, protects the troupe from outside intruders and signs of danger, usually relating to intruding silverbacks of from another group, dangerous animals like buffaloes and poachers
How gorillas communicate
Mountain gorillas mainly use facial expressions, sounds, gestures and postures to communicate with each other. When the gorillas feel threatened, they make an assortment of loud sounds like roars or screams and the males might bit their chests to scare off an opponent. Gorillas also make happy and contented noises especially when resting after a meal. This sound is sometimes like a soft grunting and is called a “belch vocalization.”
How they Grow & what they eat
Adult male Gorillas grow to over 200Kgs, females can reach up to 90Kgs. A silverback standing upright during a chest beating display, can be as tall as 1.8m. Gorillas are vegetarians; they eat bamboo shoots, giant thistles, crunchy wild cherries and a variety of other different fruits and food plants. Gorillas can live over 50 years.
Where they live
Mountain Gorillas live in high-altitude mountain forests with a dense herb layer and abundance of fruit and their forest travels range between 1500m to 3,400 m above see level
ESSENTIAL PRE- GORILLA TRACKING AND PERMITS INFORMATION IN BWINDI/MGAHINGA - UGANDA
To track gorillas you must be generally fit and in good health. Tracking in thick forest can be both soft and hard adventure depending on where the gorillas were the previous day.
To track mountain gorillas, each person must have the day’s gorilla permit which needs to be arranged and paid for in advance (Usually paid and obtained several months in advance). Each gorilla family is allowed a maximum of 8 visitors per day. Gorilla permits are sold on a first-come, first-served basis. Delay in payment can result in permits not being secured. Only a limited number of permits are available in each gorilla park. It is therefore essential to book well in advance.
Each gorilla park (Bwindi and Mgahinga in Uganda and Parc National des Volcans [PNV] in Rwanda) has different numbers of families/troupes- hence with different permits per day; Bwindi 10 families-80 permits, Mgahinga 1 family-8 permits and PNV-Rwanda 10 families-80 permits although this can change without notice if the gorillas go across the border. Geographically all gorilla families are separated by meandering routes and hills. Please note your choice of hotel/lodge will be determined by the location of gorilla family reserved at time of booking. No person is allowed to track more than three times in three consecutive days. Permits are non-refundable except for medical reasons and the refund process is quite bureaucratic often taking much hectic than expected.
No person is allowed to track more than three times in three consecutive days. Gorilla Permits fees ($600)- for Uganda and ($750)- for Rwanda, are non-refundable, in Uganda however in the event that visitors who track gorillas the whole day, fail to see them for a satisfactory reason, the park warden will likely recommend a 50% refund of tracking fee. A visitor shall be declared unfit to track due to illness by the warden –in-Charge at the park. Illness is determined at the discretion of the warden in charge on the day of tracking. Please note In such circumstances refunds are at the discretion of the authority and are not within the company's control. Personal DVD recorders are allowed. Professional filming requires extra fees to be paid
NOTE: Gorilla permits are very competitive so we advise early booking, especially in high season months (January, February March, June, July, August, September, October, and December)
The Activity involves
Pre- tracking briefing starts at 8.00am. At 8.30 am start tracking through the thick jungle, traversing canopies of thick undergrowth can be tough, wet, arduous but not impossible– the tracking can last from as little as 45 minutes to as much as 9 hours. The activity depends on location of gorillas the previous day. Visitors therefore are supposed to move along with packed/picnic lunch and water, and should be equipped with strong water-proof clothing and must be averagely healthy. Strong, light clothes could be carried, as well as rain jackets, a torch, sunglasses, a sun hat, gloves to grip vegetation, long socks. Prepare jungle boots, long-sleeved safari shirt & long water proof pants is desirable. A walking stick may be needed and can be hired at starting point. Porters can be hired to carry equipment for all trackers (fees range between $10-20 per porter per day). Applying insect repellant before tracking is advised.
Finally getting to view gorillas is rewarding. Like other animals tracking gorillas is not really that easy, nor are you guaranteed to see them. The trek to where the gorilla groups live takes you through very dense vegetation, sometimes up hill slopes. The gorillas you'll be meeting are habituated to human being that’s why you are able to get quite close to them.
Basic rules of tracking gorillas include:
Minimum age limit for visiting gorillas is 15 years. This is to protect gorillas from disease
If you are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, you are advised not visit the gorillas.
Upon locating gorillas, Viewing them is limited to an hour
To minimize possible transmission of human diseases, Guides ask visitors to maintain a distance of at least 7 meters
Maximum number of visitors per day is 8 people per group
You are allowed to take photographs, thou Use of flash photography is not allowed
Trekkers must be fit and well equipped, which includes warm clothing for the wet cool climate high in the mountains.
No eating or drinking in the vicinity of the gorillas
No touching the gorillas (although they may decide to touch you)
Should a gorilla charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions.
More for your gorilla trekking enjoyment:
The security of visitors is top priority. There is no need for concern about personal security. Game rangers & tourism security personnel are always available.
The weather in park changes any time and you can generally expect both sun and rainfall during the day.
Tracking starting points Range between 1,000m to 2300m above sea level, is generally quite cold, particularly in the evening, so warm clothing is advised.
Recommended clothing is long trousers/Pants and shirts when in the forest to avoid nettle stings.
Study walking shoes or hiking boots are essential. You may find raingear useful.
Porters are available to help you carry your daypack for a small charge.
Mountain gorillas live at high altitude and this may cause difficulties for some visitors. You should pace yourself, walk slowly and drink plenty of water. No one should feel deterred from making this trip.
VIEWING MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN; Rwanda, Uganda and DR of Congo
With only about 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, seeing them in the wild is a lifetime opportunity for people to experience. This section will tell you where you can see mountain gorillas, how much it costs, and help you have necessary preparations early.
Where Can I See Mountain Gorillas?
480 mountain gorillas live in the Virunga massif which comprises Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (DRC), and now 400 which have been confirmed in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is entirely in Uganda. For either gorillas parks, gorillas move in fairly same altitude ranging between 1000m to 3,400m above sea level
Gorillas can be viewed in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park where you are able to go gorilla tracking.
Bwindi Park is another home to more than half of the remaining rare and critically endangered populations of the Mountain Gorillas. It is just 331Km2 in size, ranges between 1160 m –2607m above sea level. The park hosts about 300 species of birds.
Mgahinga is situated on the extreme southwest corner of Uganda on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains. It borders the DRC and Rwanda. The park only covers 27 square miles so it's quite small, but besides gorillas you can also see and golden monkeys. However Gorillas of Mgahinga frequently cross border and go to Rwanda or Congo and get back (so one can be sure to track them a day before to the tracking date)
The Virunga National Park or Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in north of the country covers an area of about 46 square miles and encompasses six volcanoes. Despite the terrible genocide in the early 1990's the country is fairly stable and the park permit system is running smoothly. The PNV was where Dian Fossey set up her base and research center.
Getting to PNV in Rwanda is a fairly easy 1 hour drive from the capital Kigali or from Cyanika Border with Uganda-(Kisoro side). The town of Ruhengeri is at the entrance just 14 km to the park.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo)
Chigo Tours is not operating in Eastern DRC at the moment. We do hope to do so in the near future. For further information please contact us on info@chigotours,com
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST
Appropriate outdoor wear and warm gear will immensely improve your enjoyment of the trip and may even save you from unnecessary injury. Walking shoes with a thick sole and good grip are helpful.