Experience an Epic Adventure Amidst Mountain Gorillas in Uganda
Mountain gorillas are one of the most magnificent species in the world, and those in Africa’s rainforests are a different breed altogether. You may have seen mountain gorillas donning the crampy enclosures across zoos, but nothing prepares you for those deep-set brown eyes, sheer beauty, and brawn, and demeanor of the mountain gorillas out in the open. Check out this post to know more about the new extended experience with mountain gorillas in Uganda.
There are an approximate 900 mountain gorillas roaming through the rainforests between the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Virunga Mountains. Nowhere else you can find these precious species out in the wild. Once critically endangered, mountain gorillas are now in good numbers, thanks to a comprehensive and perhaps the greatest conservation effort in Africa. While George Schaller first conducted research on gorillas around the 1950s, it was the efforts of Dian Fossey, which brought the plight of gorillas into the limelight. Before her murder in 1985, Fossey estimated the number of gorillas to be around 250 and cited extensive poaching, habitat loss, and the civil war crossfires as reasons for their decreasing numbers. An earlier attempt to fund conservation attempts In Bwindi, a form of gorilla tourism started in 1993, which saw the Mubare group fully familiarising to humans. Today, the park is creating an experience for human interactions by tracking semi-habituated groups.
Nowadays, there are nearly 400 gorillas, out of which there are 12 completely familiarized families. Once you reach the Park Headquarters here in Buhoma, you are allocated a guide and gorilla group. Subsequently, you get a briefing on regulations that help protect both the tourists and primates. Gorillas share 98 percent of the human DNA and therefore, are quite susceptible to infections such as common cold. Therefore, no ill visitors are allowed to trek with the gorillas. Likewise, only eight people are allowed with each gorilla family at a time, for only an hour. The rules also iterate that tourists must not venture to within 7 meters of the giant apes. If the gorillas approach within a touching distance of you, avoid any temptation to make physical contact with them. Gorillas are easily startled by loud voices, flash photography, and sudden movements, therefore, tourists are instructed to avoid all such activities. The hike across the dense jungle is itself quite challenging - steep muddy terrain, tangled vines and vegetation dotting the landscape, and whatnot. The experience of watching the gorillas eat, sleep, preen, and play, is one both daunting and mesmerizing.
The Gorilla Familiarization Experience
Gorillas aren’t naturally so placid in front of their human counterparts. It takes serious time and efforts to instill this relaxed, nonchalant attitude. In Bwindi, trackers visit wild gorilla groups each day for three years during the habituation process. In case of semi-habituated gorillas, the primates are familiar with the presence of trackers but not to strangers. Contrary to the traditional experience, the new program comprises a 4-hour experience that starts from the place the primates were last seen the day before. Subsequently, tourists get to hike with the trackers, reading the signs and eventually reaching the primate family. Nests. Along the way, the trackers collect hair and dung samples from emptied nests before proceeding. Once you reach the gorilla group, it is important to stay in their vision, eventually closing in to reach the threshold of 7 meters. Remember, unlike the fully habituated groups from the traditional tours, these gorillas dash through the dense rainforest and slip down the wet slopes, with you and the trackers pursuing them. Overall, this unpredictability of the whole experience is what makes this encounter worth. Remember to mimic the behavior of the primates to help them get familiar with your presence. You can even talk to them through a series of vocalizations that have specific meanings. Trust us, to hear a mountain gorilla give a reply to your low throaty rumbling, is seriously spine-tingling.
(All photographs are courtesy of the original owners unless otherwise indicated)