Tourism is essential for saving the Mountain Gorillas
If you want to promote responsible tourism shouldn’t balk at pricey Gorilla permit costs, as it, directly and indirectly, protects the Gorillas. A portion of the Gorilla permit cost goes to the National Park rangers, veterinarians, and trackers who ensure the Mountain Gorillas health and safety. Another portion goes to help nearby communities, where the benefits are indirect but equally essential to protect the endangered species.
Habitat loss is one of the biggest risks to Mountain Gorillas. Humans living near the Gorillas need land for subsistence farming and firewood for cooking. The money you spend on your Gorilla trekking permit, hotel, food, activities, and souvenirs helps ensure people have clean water, enough food, cooking fuel, healthcare, education, jobs, and a stable political environment.
Mountain Gorillas improve the economies of the three countries where they live and create a vested interest in further protecting them. When tourists spend their money directly in at-risk communities, it ensures local people benefit from tourism, minimizes risks of resentment and disenfranchisement, and builds an interdependent and sustainable tourism industry.
Habituating Mountain Gorillas
Habituating Mountain Gorillas to humans is helping the Gorilla population grow. In 1981, the Mountain Gorilla population was estimated at only 254 individuals. There are now just over 1,000 animals, up more than 25% since 2010. Uganda’s Bwindi Forest, Mountain Gorillas have increased to over 500, while the tri-national Virunga Gorillas now number over 700, up from 480 in 2010.
Each Mountain Gorilla family has a group of trackers assigned to it. They are local men and women who know the forest well and trained park rangers; some are reformed poachers.
Mountain Gorillas are tricky to find. They move almost constantly throughout the day and sleep in a different spot each night, making a nest on the ground to cuddle up in. Every morning, trackers search for the nests and then radio rangers at base camp so they know which direction to start bringing their tourists.
Trackers follow the trail until they find the Gorillas feeding and then radio rangers again. Trackers keep following their Gorilla family while rangers lead tourists to them. The success rate is over 99%, ensuring that tourists keep paying for Gorilla trekking permits and contributing to the local economy.
Trackers carefully observe their Gorillas for signs of injury, illness, and stress, and call in veterinarians when needed. Trackers monitor pregnancies, births, deaths, and when Silverbacks steal females from other families. They also remove poachers’ antelope snares and other hazards from the forest.
When to see the Mountain Gorillas?
Trekking to see the Mountain Gorillas is throughout the year, but it is tougher during rainy seasons. Uganda has two rainy seasons, one from mid-March to the end of May, and from October to November. Discounts on accommodations are available. It typically rains only for a few hours at a time, but mud increases the trekking challenge.
Uganda’s main dry season is from June to September and it is the busiest, season as it is during Christmas season. The shorter dry season of January and February is an optimal time to visit.
In Rwanda, the rainy season is from the end of February through to May. An advantage to the rain is that the gorillas can feed at lower elevations so there is often a shorter distance to trek to find them, though you still need to battle the mud. Rwanda’s dry seasons are from June to September and from mid-December to mid-February.
For detailed information about Mountain gorilla tracking, please refer to the links below
Minimum age for gorilla trekking
is Gorilla trekking dangerous?
Do i need to train before trekking gorillas?
What to wear for gorilla trekking?
Gorilla trekking rules and regulations
Is gorilla trekking worth it?
Getting to mountain gorillas
Will I get sick of altitude?
Post-Gorilla trekking activities
Visas and Vaccines
How to see mountain gorillas in the wild? – Americans and many other nationalities need a visa to enter Uganda and Rwanda. Your passport must be valid for six months past your planned date of departure from the region and you need at least one blank page per country you plan to visit.
Apply for Ugandan visas online at least two weeks prior to traveling but you can also obtain it on arrival at the point of entry. A single-entry tourist visa for Uganda is USD50 (plus a 3% fee for online processing). Apply for a Rwandan visa in advance or purchase upon arrival for USD50.
If you plan to visit both countries, apply online for the East Africa visa for entry to Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya for USD100 (plus 3% processing fee). You can get this visa on arrival in Rwanda or Uganda. U.S. currency printed in the mid-2009 or earlier is generally not accepted either for visa purchases or at currency exchanges.
You will need to show proof of Yellow Fever Vaccination upon arrival at the airport. Uganda and Rwanda are malarial countries, so you will want to take antimalarial pills and wear bug spray to protect against other mosquito-borne diseases like Dengue.
The Impenetrable Forest of Bwindi
You might get lucky, but you should be mentally and physically prepared for Gorilla trekking to be the hardest day hike you have ever done. Mountain Gorillas spend their days at higher altitude looking for food through the undulating hills of the often muddy rainforest. You will need to follow their tracks to find them. Rangers, porters, and trackers carry machetes to somewhat clear your path of vegetation.
Mountain Gorilla trekking often involves sliding down slopes, using vines to pull yourself up steep inclines, and even levering yourself up with your walking stick. You might find your Gorillas resting in a clearing a half-hour walk from base camp, or you might need to follow them through the bush as they feed. Gorilla treks tend to last a few hours but it can take up to seven hours to find your assigned habituated Gorilla family.
Should i hire a porter?
If you are worried about your ability to get through such an arduous hike, you should seriously consider hiring a porter (or two). Not only will they carry your gear, but they will also push and pull you over the most difficult stretches if needed. You won’t lose the chance to see the Mountain Gorillas.
Hiring a porter is another way to help protect the Mountain Gorillas. Porters, trackers, and rangers are often reformed poachers, now using their forest skills to protect these endangered species. Ensuring that they can make a living wage helps prevent them from returning to poaching to feed their families. It costs USD20 to hire a porter in Bwindi Forest.
What if i do feel sick?
If you feel the minor effects of altitude shortness of breath, headache, low energy, and fatigue you will likely be able to push through your trekking day. But if you feel more serious signs like severe headache, confusion, loss of coordination, tightness in your chest, or like you might throw up, you shouldn’t trek and should get to a lower altitude.
Similarly, if you feel any kind of sickness, like a cough or stomach bug, which might be caused by a virus or bacteria, do not go to see the Mountain Gorillas. It’s essential that you don’t pass on any diseases to these endangered apes.
If you voluntarily declare that you are too sick to trek, rangers will try to organize a new trek for you or will refund 50% of the cost of your trekking Gorilla permit. But there is no refund if you show up and the ranger determines your illness will put the Gorillas at risk and cancels your participation.