Gorilla tracking begins in the early morning and can take between one and four hours. Walking quietly through the almost impenetrable, dew covered vegetation it is not long before a family is encountered.
Heart pumping, you find yourself face to face with these powerful yet incredibly gentle creatures. Remembering the guide’s list of “do’s and don’ts” you are careful not to make any gestures that can be mistaken as hostile or combative in nature. With only a few meters separating you from the gorillas, you remain watching and being watched. Maintaining calm and composure is paramount especially if a gorilla decides to take a closer look!
This special moment ends after about an hour and the group moves back down the mountain. A very memorable morning has been spent.
WHERE TO TRACK GORILLAS
For many visitors coming to East Africa, gorilla visit is the largest expenditure they make in the region. And it is worth planning well in advance so as to get the best plan, since only 12 licenses to Bwindi are allowed per day. The permits cost $250 and park fees $15. One needs to get permits early in advance as the numbers are controlled for sustainable tourism.
BWINDI NATIONAL PARK-UGANDA
This is the number one place for tracking gorillas in East Africa. Its popularity and reputation is growing, and security was beefed up in the aftermath of the Bwindi attacks. And there is now a considerable presence of Uganda military personnel for safety but not noticeable. And the tourists are beginning to return.
MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK-UGANDA
This park takes in parts of the Virunga volcanoes, which span the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Seeing Gorillas here however is not guaranteed as they occasionally duck across the border into Congo. Security here is good and the place is accessible and the Army is around to keep watch. The permits cost more and more time is needed to get one.
Parc Nacional des volcanoes
This was the place to view Gorillas before the genocide war. The park has been reopened and this is now the place to catch the best authentic experience of gorillas, as the towering volcanoes form breathtaking backdrops. The permits are few so it is advised to pre book early and in good time. Security is topnotch with foreign-trained elite military units guarding the park.
This is also one of the safest places to go tracking, and access is straight forward from Ruhengeri
Permits issued per day are few so as to restrict the numbers visiting. Big crowds tend to increase the stress level of these endangered species, which reduces their immunity to disease and could lead to the gradual demise of these species considering that 3 out of 10 die before adulthood.
THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS OF EAST AFRICA
There can be few experiences in the world more memorable and magical than an encounter with the mountain gorillas of East Africa. As the father of gorilla conservation George Schaller once wrote: ‘No one who looks into a gorillas eyes – intelligent, gentle, vulnerable- can remain unchanged for the gap between the ape and human vanishes, then we know that the gorilla still lives within us’.
There are thought to be just 600 mountain gorillas left in the world today, all found in a small area of East Africa straddling the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo (Zaire). Gorillas used to inhabit the a swathe of rainforests land that cuts across Central Africa, but the ice age diminished the forests and divided gorillas into three group:
• Western lowland gorilla
• Eastern gorilla
• Mountain gorilla
These are now only found in two small populations of about 300 each in the forests of Bwindi and the slopes of Virunga volcanoes. Mountain gorillas are very rare species, and there is just one for every 10 million people on earth.
Mountain gorillas have long hair, broader chest and wider jaws.
GORILLA's LIFE STYLE
Gorillas are vegetarians, their diet consisting of bamboo shoots, giant thistles and wild celery, all which contain a lot of water allowing gorillas to survive without water for long periods of time. Gorillas spend 30% of their time feeding and 30% moving and foraging and the remainder of the time resting. They spend most of their time on the ground moving on all fours, but stand up to reach for food.
The silverback dictates movements for the day and at night each gorilla makes its own nest. Nests are only used once. Gorillas aren’t big movers and will usually only travel about one km a day.
They live in families of varying sizes, with the silverback males; young- back males, females and infants. These groups are of 10-15 members in Uganda, while the Rwanda groups are each about 30. They have strong family bonds based on age with Silver rack as the head, then the oldest females followed by children.
Gorillas are placid and serious. Confrontations are rare, although violence can flare if there is a challenge on supremacy between silverbacks. This is usually a show of strength and vocal disputes, and injuries can be serious, usually with the winner killing all the young ones to establish his mating rights.
This is varied- facial, gestures and calls. Adults bark and roar during confrontations to coordinate the movements of groups to a different area.
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