Come face-to-face with mountain gorillas in the wild is one of the rare wildlife experiences. The Virunga is blessed to host half of the world’s population of the mountain gorillas. A gorilla trekking safari to Africa is a magical experience which involves penetrating the forest in search of the amazing gentle giants in their natural environment.
Within the whole world, mountain gorillas are found in only three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Virunga Region protects half of the world’s population of the mountain gorillas. The other half is protected within Bwindi impenetrable National park. According to the 2012 Gorilla Census there are as few as 900 mountain gorillas left in the whole world.
Gorilla trekking is possible in all the three national parks within the Virunga. The gorillas within a habituated family are fairly familiar with people so they usually display natural behavior. The number of tourists that is allowed to visit the group per day is limited to only 8 tourists. This is one of the guidelines to the development of gorilla tourism and the impact on nature is limited.
There are several gorilla groups in the gorilla groups that have been habituated for gorilla tracking;
In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda) there is one gorilla group called Nyakagezi. Though this group keeps on migrating to Congo and Rwanda, this is one of the loveliest group to track given the size of the family. There are silverback, blackbucks, females and juveniles. Since 2012, The Nyakagezi Group has been settled in the park and can be currently tracked by tourists.
In Virunga National park, (DR Congo) there are five gorilla groups that have been habituated and are open to gorilla tracking all year round. Here is a list of the habituated gorilla groups in Congo.
In the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda, there are ten gorilla groups that have been habituated for gorilla tracking. Here is a list of habitutaed gorilla groups in Rwanda.
A Gorilla Trek in the Virunga Parks
These three national parks in Virunga ranges are made of mainly bamboo forest and they are not very strenuous which makes it a bit easier to trek if compared to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the second home to the mountain gorillas. The gorillas in Volcanoes National ParkR are located near for most of the groups though the Sabinyo group at times climbs up the mountain. This makes it very easy to track and most of the time taking 1-6 hours to track.
What Happens on the Gorilla Trekking Day
To go for a gorilla trek you must have a gorilla permit. Gorilla Permits are sold by different authorities and each pass permits you to go gorilla tracking once. If you would like to track the gorillas twice, you need to buy two passes.
On the D Day for gorilla trekking, trackers assemble at the park headquarters where they get briefed about how the trek is to be conducted. Emphasis is put on the rules and guidelines to responsible gorilla watching and you can read these rules here!
Within the Volcanoes National Par, visitors are assigned gorilla groups to be tracked. Guided by the well trained local guides and park rangers, enter into the forest in search of the mountain gorillas. The porters go clearing the bush to create passage and the guides always know where the gorillas could have slept the previous night.
It is common for the trackers to start their search from the last location where the gorillas were the last day! The trackers will follow their trail of trampled grass, broken branches and twigs. If you watch closely you learn how they do it.
A Look Out for Gorillas! During the trek, look out for the gorilla nests! These can be identified by looking out for large nests which these giants make every night they sleep. Once in presence of the gorillas, only a maximum of one hour is allowed to stay with the gorillas. This is enough to take the photos, ask all the necessary questions and get the required information before descending back to the park headquarters. Trackers are always issued certificated for participating in this challenging but rewarding activity of gorilla tracking.
What are the best Places to track the gorillas
You can track mountain gorillas in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. According to biologists, Volcanoes NP is the best place to spot them, given that most treks take shorter time than in other parks and the various groups live in the region. Visitors also stand good chances of seeing these great apes in Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park.
Most guidebooks discourage gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park but this is not true! Many trackers have seen the gorillas in Mgahinga in just 2-3 hours! Most treks are through by midday and though this group regularly cross the border into Volcanoes NP, once it settles in the park, it can be tracked with ease. The Uganda Wildlife Authority regularly updates you at the time of booking whether the group is available or not.