Mountain gorilla is one of the endangered species at risk of extinction in Africa. According to the gorilla census of 2011, globally there are approximately 880 individuals. Half of this population is found in the Virunga mass of volcanic mountain ranges shared by Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park), Uganda (Mgahinga National Park) and Democratic Republic of Congo (Virunga National Park). The rest of the population is found in the impenetrable forests of Bwindi National Park in south western Uganda.
The fact that mountain gorillas are at risk of extinction, Uganda and Rwanda receive huge numbers of tourists from different parts of the globe to come and witness the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. After seeing gorillas in the zoo in your home country, you will definitely be impressed to save money to see their behavior in their natural setting.
Because this specie is at risk of extinction, their habitat must be protected from degradation.Therefore, the number of visitors is limited per day only 8 persons for each gorilla group. You must book in advance and get your gorilla permit reserved. Bookings can be made through Travel Agents, Tour Operators or direct with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Rwanda Development Board (RDB).
Gorillas stay in groups known as troops that generally consist of 1 to 4 adult males (called silverbacks), some juvenile males (called black-backs), several adult females and young. Amazing is that the oldest and strongest adult male silverback leads the troop. The silverback keeping a watchful eye over his troop and defends in time of trouble.
Before reproduction, adolescent females transfer to another troop at around eight years of age. Generally the first troop a female reproduces will become her permanent family.
The early arrivals receive the benefits of high ranking than the late arrivals in the troop. For example the early arrival benefit from staying near the Silverback for protection. It is for this reason that females most often join a lone silverback or a newly formed troop rather than a long-established one.
An adolescent male most separate from his parental group due to lack of breeding opportunity – the dominant silverback takes advantage of mating females for reproduction.
The Gorilla groups usually range from 2 to 12 individuals with 9 being the average. If a troop consists of multiple silverbacks they are usually the sons of the dominant adult male silverback. It should also be noted that the largest group can raise 16 members. Responsible bodies like Uganda Wildlife Authority for Uganda and Rwanda Development Board for Rwanda habituate gorilla groups for tourism purposes and make then get used to people without affecting their natural setting. The process continues and new gorilla families are formed and habituated for tourism purposes.
Uganda currently has up to 14 gorilla group habituated for tourism purposes namely; Nkuringo, Nshongi, Oruzogo group, Habinyanja, Bitukura group, Mubare group, Kahunjye, Mishaya, Kyaguriro, Businje, Bushabo and Bikingi, not forgetting Nyakagezi group, the only one found in Mgahinga National park. Gorilla trekking tours in Uganda are based on the groups above. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park on the other hand are currently based on 10 habituated gorilla families namely; Hirwa group, Susa, Ugenda, Umubano, Ntambara, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Kwitonda, Amahoro and Group 13. These are found in Volcanoes National Park. For Democratic Republic of Congo, little information is available about the current status for gorilla tourism due to political unrest. Few people can now risk their life to DR congo for gorilla tracking in Virunga National Park. Those who make to Virunga reveal that Congo gorillas are the best, gorilla groups have many members, silverbacks and juveniles as well as babies. The country is now secure but some embassies warn their people against traveling to DR Congo.
Gorilla social behaviors
Silverbacks are mostly aggressive than other group members to ensure the group safety and maintenance of the leadership privileges.
Adult females are not bonded to one another and usually compete to groom and stay close to the silverback. Mothers are closely bonded to their offspring for the first three years of life.
Gorillas will give each other nose-to-nose greetings and gestures of reassurance such as embracing or touching.
Gorillas spend about 14 hours feeding and foraging and about 10 hours resting every day.
Gorillas move about 400-1,000 meters (0.24-0.60 mi) per day which is about 88-219 miles per year.
Feeding/foraging activity peaks during the first three to four hours of the day. Then there is usually an extended rest period during midday until mid-late afternoon at which point feeding/foraging activity resumes.
On daily basis, Gorillas construct nests to sleep in at the end of the day. They gather vegetation around them in trees or on the ground.
Gorillas most walk on four-foot. The walk derived its name because they walk on their knuckles, not on their palms.
Gorillas usually travel only about 0.5 to 1 km (0.3 to 0.6 mi) per day when there is ample food supply, since they have a slow pace and relatively large body size which makes it difficult to travel extensively.
It is extremely rare that gorillas would compete for food, Mothers and older siblings also help protect the young, Gorilla mothers will often enlist the help of older siblings to help care for and protect their young.
Getting to the Gorillas
Before confirming your safari in Rwanda, you must know how to get there especially to International travelers. After getting into Rwanda, your journey to the mountain gorillas starts there. Rwanda is accessible through Kanombe International Airport on the Suburbs of Kigali capital. From here, it is only 90 minutes drive to Volcanoes national park, a home to mountain gorilla in Rwanda.
Uganda is accessed through Entebbe International Airport. From here to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National parks takes between 8 and 10 hours drive. The 2 gorilla destinations in Uganda can be accessed from Rwanda (Kanombe airport), then cross international boarder of Cyanika or Gatuna, taking between 4 and 5 hours drive.
Gorilla Trekking Packing List / What to carry? What to Wear?
– Long Pants
– Long Sleeved Shirts / Blouse
– Garden Gloves
– Insect repellent
– A hat
– Sun Glasses
– Hiking Boots (water proof highly recommended)
– Bottled Mineral water for refreshment
– Some Snacks / Biscuits
– Extra Batteries for your Cameras
Note that gorilla tracking starts early in the morning every day and only one shift, not like chimpanzees where we have a morning and afternoon shift. You must be at the park headquarters by 7:30am for a briefing about the activity and group allocation.