More Gorilla Tracking Tips
- Dressing code for gorilla trekking in Rwanda
The rainforest is full of horrible stinging nettles. It hurts to get stung. Protect yourself by bringing a pair of thick gloves (gardening gloves would be perfect), wearing knee-high hiking gaters, a long-sleeved lightweight shirt and wearing fairly thick pants (although it is quite warm so don’t wear your thermals). In terms of other clothes, you can hike in a pair of running shoes but a comfortable pair of hiking boots (preferably with a high ankle to protect from nettles) would be perfect. It often rains (it is a rainforest, after all) so bring a light rainjacket with a hood. Only take essentials in a small backpack – two bottles of water, maybe a snack if you’re a hungry hiker, camera, hat and sunscreen.
- Which camera to bring
If possible, you should bring three camera bodies with three different lenses – I would recommend a zoom lens, wide angle and an in-between lens or a fixed focal length lens. The gorillas move around, and it’s tricky to change lenses while they’re moving so having different camera bodies is ideal. If you’re more a point-and-shoot-type then make sure your camera is fully charged, and bring extra memory cards just in case!
- Try and shoot video
You’ll be desperate to get great pics of the gorillas to show friends back home how close you came to these amazing gentle giants. But think about shooting video too. It’s fairly easy video to shoot – you’re close to the gorillas and they don’t move as fast as say, lions. You’ll be glad that you shot a video of this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
- Practice gorilla etiquette
Don’t forget that you’re encountering mountain gorillas in their natural habitat – this is not a zoo experience. Respect them, their environment and their behaviour and know that you’re a guest in their world. Having said that, don’t worry about being attacked! Gorillas are not as aggressive as popular culture has made them out to be. While they’re huge (silverbacks can be over 200 kgs) and powerful, gorillas on the whole are gentle and shy creatures. There has never been an incident of a habituated gorilla attacking a tourist. These habituated groups see tourists every single day, so they’re pretty used to us.
Your tracking guide will tell you more about how to behave when you’re in the presence of gorillas but here are some things to keep in mind:
When you approach gorillas, and while you’re around them, make a grunting sound (your guide will show you how) to reassure them that you are a friend. They may even communicate with you!
– Don’t stare straight into gorillas’ eyes – this can be seen to be aggressive.
-Don’t ever run from a gorilla – if one approaches you just act submissive and crouch down.
– Don’t go gorilla tracking if you’re sick – gorillas are susceptible to human illnesses, and if one gorilla in the group catches flu from you, then the entire group could die.
-If you sneeze or cough, turn your head away from the gorillas so as not to spread your germs.
-Don’t eat or drink in front of gorillas.
-You get very close to the gorillas – within a few metres. Don’t push this though – don’t try and get too close.
-Coming face-to-face with a silverback mountain gorilla in Rwanda
- Dry season is the period for gorilla trekking
While planning for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, year-round, the best time to go is in the dry season, which is from June to September. During the dry season, the ground is drier and dirt roads more accessible. Imagine that during rainy season it’s much more challenging to hike in the Volcanoes National Park.
- Make use of your one hour
You are only allowed one hour with gorillas. This is so that gorilla groups don’t get stressed by too much contact with tourists (to be honest, more than an hour with a bunch of ogling camera-toting tourists would be enough for you, too). Make the most of the hour! It goes by so fast – it really was the shortest hour of my life. While you’ll want to take a thousand photos and shoot video, you also need to take time to just appreciate being in the presence of these great apes, without viewing them through your camera.
- Read/watch Gorillas in the Mist before you go