There are very few wildlife experiences as exceptional and memorable as trekking (to go on an arduous journey, typically on foot) for mountain gorillas, and you’ve decided to join the many trekkers who have gone before you and wandered through Africa’s rainforests in search of these endangered primates. Whether you have a few final questions or don’t know too much about what’s in store, then we hope to answer some of those questions for you.
“What is gorilla trekking?”
Gorilla trekking is an on-foot wildlife experience (with a maximum of 8 people per group), through east Africa’s rainforests to get up close with endangered mountain gorillas.
“Why is gorilla trekking such a sought after experience?”
The plight of Africa’s mountain gorillas really came about in the 1960s predominantly through the work of Dian Foessey. A lot of the work she did, through extensive studies and research, launched Africa’s mountain gorillas to fame.
Reasons for trekking mountain gorillas varies from person to person and there may be a few people who can’t even give you a valid reason why they are so interested in it. However, whether you have a reason or not, gorilla trekking remains one of the most stirring and rewarding wildlife experiences there is.
“What are the current threats to Africa’s mountain gorillas?”
There are a number of threats to mountain gorillas, but the main ones are:
- Habitat loss and human encroachment – Mountain gorillas already live in a limited habitat range and with human populations growing, this is putting their habitats under more pressure.
- Poaching – Bush meat is sought after by local communities as a source of protein and mountain gorillas can be poached for their meat, as well as for traditional medicines.
- Disease – Despite the protection national parks offer, mountain gorillas are still susceptible to disease. Gorilla families are subjected to regular visits from trekkers, who can bring in diseases and pathogens. Although we share a similar genetic makeup, a gorilla’s immune system has not evolved to cope with human disease.
“Where can I trek mountain gorillas?”
Mountain gorillas have a limited habitat extent and are only found in three countries that span four national parks: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo).
“Is gorilla trekking safe?”
When you finally catch a glimpse of a mountain gorilla, you will be amazed (perhaps intimidated) at their size and physique, so the issue of safety will definitely come to mind. Compared to other wildlife encounters, gorilla trekking is one of the safest there is. That being said, there are rules (outlined later), that should be followed without exception.
“When is the best time to trek?”
Trekking can be done during the dry (June to September and December to February) or rainy seasons (March to May and October to November). The rainy season does make trekking more challenging, so it’s often recommended to trek during the dry season. One of the benefits when trekking during the rainy season is that accommodation at lodges and hotels are at discounted rates.
“What is the minimum age for gorilla trekking and is there an upper age limit?”
Trekkers must be 15 years old at the time of their trek. While there is no upper age limit on gorilla trekking. Trekkers over 60 years old at the time of their trek may have to request a letter from their physician, given how physically demanding a trek can be.
“What gear do I need?”
- Hiking shoes or boots – It’s important to have shoes or boots that are waterproof as the trails are often waterlogged or muddy.
- Warm jacket or sweater – Early morning treks are cold. It’s recommended to bring a warm jacket or sweater for the first couple of hours of the morning.
- Rain jacket – Rainfall is not in short supply where you’re heading and it’s advised to have a rain jacket handy.
- Hat, sunglasses and sunscreen – A little bit of sun protection.
- Insect repellent – Africa’s forests are not only home to mountain gorillas, but insects that nip and bite too. It’s a good idea to have some insect repellent with you.
- Long-sleeved shirt and long pants – These will protect you from scratches, bites, cuts and thorny vegetation.
- Walking stick – These will be provided by your guides and they make trekking those steep inclines in the forest a lot easier.
- Water and a packed lunch – There’s no telling how long your trek will last so it’s important to have some water and snacks on you. That being said, don’t leave wrappers or litter along the trail.
“How long does a trek last?”
You will have an early morning wake up on the day of your trek. Depending on how far your lodge is from the park gates, you could leave between 06:30 and 07:00. Once you arrive you will be briefed by the parks rangers and guides. When the trek begins, there is no pre-determined amount of time you will spend in the forest. Time spent in the jungle is dependent on the movements of the gorillas and where they have slept for the night. Treks can last for 30 minutes or up to 5 hours. Once a gorilla family has been found, you will spend an hour with them.
“How much do permits cost?”
Permit costs depend on the country you’re trekking in (DRC, Uganda or Rwanda). The costs are as follows (as of January 2018):
- DRC – 450 USD
- Uganda – 600 USD
- Rwanda – 1,000 USD
Although the costs for permits vary, so do the experiences in each country. One thing to bear in mind though, is while the permits may seem expensive, you are contributing significantly to mountain gorilla conservation efforts.
“Any dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking?”
- You will not be allowed to trek if you are sick. Mountain gorillas are very susceptible to diseases brought in by trekkers. Because their habitats are so isolated, gorillas aren’t used to encountering disease beyond their habitat range.
- Follow the instructions of your guide(s) to the letter. Your guides will instruct you on how to move and behave when you encounter the gorillas. These guides are experts on how gorillas behave, so you need to pay attention to them. This is for your safety, the safety of those around you and the safety of the mountain gorillas.
- Maintain the recommended distance from the gorillas. Your guides will instruct you during the briefing, prior to trekking, what distance you should maintain between you and the gorillas (7 m is the norm). It’s vital you maintain this distance. Although the gorilla families are habituated and are considered ‘gentle giants’, they are still wild animals and should be given the respect they deserve.
- Keep limited eye contact. Staring into the eyes of the gorillas may come across as a form of intimidation or a challenge. There’s no telling what could happen as a result, so don’t do it.
- No sudden movements. Once again, this could be seen as an act of hostility by the gorillas. If you are approached by a mountain gorilla remain calm and still and wait for it to wander off.
- Make sure your camera flash is off. There’s nothing wrong with taking pictures, but make sure your camera flash is turned off.
- No talking or shouting prior to your trek and during your encounter. Making loud noises could put your chances of encountering gorillas at risk. Gorillas are sensitive to loud noises and you will also make the trek unpleasant for other members in the group.
With your questions answered, all you need to do is get kitted up with your walking stick in hand and head to the home of east Africa’s mountain gorillas. Wildlife experiences don’t come much better than this. Contact us today (firstname.lastname@example.org) for our gorilla trekking packages or if you have any further questions that we didn’t answer.