Planning a Gorilla Safari in Africa

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Gorilla Tracking

Visiting mountain gorillas in Africa in there natural habitats is one of the fantastic once-in-a-lifetime experience everyone has to perform before he or she leaves planet earth. These mountain gorillas can only be visited in the destinations of Uganda in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Park, Volcanoes in Rwanda and Virunga in DR. Cong. As i have told you that one shouldn’t miss before leaving planet earth, it is the number one wish list of visitor who are planning a visit to East Africa.

Before planning a gorilla safari, there are certain things that you should bear in mind before visiting the apes.

  1. What are mountain Gorillas?

There are only several hundred mountain gorillas remaining on Earth, and about half live in the forests of the Virunga mountains in central Africa. Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorillas. A bit more than half of these gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes that border the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The remainder can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Since the discovery of the mountain gorilla subspecies in 1902, its population has endured years of war, hunting, habitat destruction and disease—threats so severe that it was once thought the species might be extinct by the end of the twentieth century.

As their name implies, mountain gorillas live in forests high in the mountains. They have thicker fur, and more of it, compared to other great apes. The fur helps them to survive in a habitat where temperatures often drop below freezing. But as humans have moved more and more into the gorillas’ territory, the gorillas have been pushed farther up into the mountains for longer periods, forcing them to endure dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions.

Since they have 99% of the human DNA, mountain gorillas in families/ groups led by a dominant male silver back which ensures protection and safety of the family. The groups are also composed of females and the younger males, adult and juvenile females, and infants. The largest gorilla group or family ever studied is in Rwanda and is led by Cantsbee (now 38 years old!), who is the oldest known mountain gorilla in the whole world.

  1. How is gorilla trekking like?

After your breakfast with your park lunch and depending on which lodges you would have slept in, you may drive or walk to the pack headquarters for registration and allocation of gorilla families depending on your interests and physical fitness. You will definitely be divided into groups of eight people per gorilla family and after briefing, each given a guide, a ranger and a tourism police officer who has to ensure that you are safe while trekking gorillas. You will then walk to the starting point as each gorilla family has a different starting point depending on its movements with in its territory. From the starting point, you will start your trek which may take from 30 minutes to even six hours and once you have seen the gorillas, you will then spend an hour with them before returning back to the park headquarters. At the park headquarters, each of you will be given a certificate in recognition of your contribution to the conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas. The experience varies from one family to another, from one day to another and from hour to hour depending on the mood and activity of a given mountain gorilla family.

  1. What is the best time to visit gorillas in Africa?

The gorilla trekking in Africa is done throughout the year. However, the best time to visit Africa for a gorilla trek is during the short dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions and the lowest malaria risk.

You can visit Rwanda, Uganda, DR. Congo and trek gorillas outside these optimum times of year but bear in mind that hiking will be more difficult in the rainy season as paths are steep and maybe muddy. It pays to be as fit as possible before you commence your trek.

  1. What to have for gorilla Trekking in Africa?
  • Gorilla Permit: For anyone to go for the activity of gorilla trekking in the three destinations, you must have a trekking permit issued but different bodies in the destinations. Rwanda Development board{RDB} to issue gorilla permits in Rwanda, Uganda Wildlife Authority{UWA} in Uganda and Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the Congolese wildlife authority. Rwanda gorilla permit is at USD1500, in Uganda is at USD700 and USD400 in Congo. For those who want to visit the apes for less, trek in the low season in Uganda and Congo where permit prices are reduced from US$700 to USD450 Uganda and from USD4oo to USD350 Congo. Note gorilla permits are given out on fast come fast serve basis so you are required to book in advance like one month before.
  • Tourist Visa: Like in any other country, a visa is a must have to give you permission to be on it premises. If you are to visit all the three locations Uganda, Rwanda and Congo, you will have to apply for east Africa tourist visa.
  1. What to pack for a Gorilla Trek?
  • Hiking Boots: One of the most important items that should be included in your gorilla trekking gear are hiking boots. Because of the nature of the forests plus the altitude and terrain, you need light weight hiking boots for this activity.
  • Garden Gloves: You will be required gloves to protect your hands during your gorilla trek. As you move in this forest, remember that it can get slippery and somehow you need to hold on something just in case such happens. If you happen to touch some itching plants, trees or even climbing trees, you may be harmed. These gloves will therefore protect you from germs and other items that may scratch your hands.
  • Rain Jacket: Gorilla trekking is done in the tropical rain forest receiving rain throughout the year, mean you will never tell when it is going to rain so you need a rain jacket in order to be protected from rain. Many clients prefer traveling in drier months of June, July, August and beginning of September and try to avoid rainy seasons of March, April and May but being a tropical rain forest, it rains any time so park your jacket.
  • Long Sleeved Shirts/trousers: since you pass throw thick and impenetrable forests, long sleeved shirts and trousers are required to protect you from being scratched by the thorns and insects.
  • Cameras and extra batteries: Photography is an important component of your safari and thus make sure that you have your camera ready, charge your batteries very well and if necessary, carry extra batteries as you will need to take as many photographs in the one hour you will have with the gorillas. Please make sure that you switch off your flash while taking gorilla photographs.
  • Hat and Sun Glasses: If it is hot, please carry a hat to protect you from the strong sun rays. You may also need to carry some sun glasses too.
  • Pair of Binoculars: Don’t forget that you are on safari and you want to have clear views of everything. Not only gorillas, there are other things to see in the forest such as birds, chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys among other primates, forest elephants and buffaloes so during your trek in search for the rare mountain gorillas, you will have a chance to spot some of the above.
  1. What are the trekking rules?
  • People infected with flue and whooping cough will not be allowed to trek gorillas since they may infected with by human diseases.
  • Only one visit to any gorilla group is allowed per day and the number of tourists is limited to eight per group. This is to minimize behavioral disturbance, stress and possible risk of infection.
  • The minimum age for trekking gorillas is 15Year.
  • You are required to spent only and only one hour with the gorillas.
  • Flash lights are not allowed when taking photos as this may make the gorilla to charge.
  • All visitors must be a least seven feet away from the gorillas.
  • Visitors should not sit or crouch whilst watching the Gorillas.
  • Visitors should not clear vegetation close to Gorillas so that they get a better view.
  • If a silver-back gorilla charges at you, do not run away. The safest thing to do is remain quietly where you are.
  • Eating, drinking and smoking are not permitted near the Gorillas.
  • Keep silent when with the gorillas and even in the forest.
  • You are not allowed to dispose wastes in the forest.

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