To many people, mountain gorillas seem to be rude, untouchable giants that could easily provoke a fight to humans. Surprisingly the mountain gorillas, though large or gentle creatures, can be easily seen peacefully on a gorilla tracking safari in Rwanda, Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since the inauguration of gorilla tourism within these three destinations that are home to mountain gorillas, No fight or flight response between tourists and the gorillas has ever been encountered in the wild. The gorillas are known to be the largest primates in the world, sharing 98% of the human’s DNA. That’s why many of us refer to them as the gentle giants.
Today there are about 1050 mountain gorillas living the wild of Africa. Remember there are no mountain gorillas in the zoo and the common gorillas you see in Zoos are Eastern lowland gorillas. The mountain gorillas live within the Virunga Region, a forested hilly area shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Within these 3 countries, visiting the gorillas is possible and a well regulated way of observing these gentle giants has been put in place and harmonized to ensure their protection from getting extinct. Like other wildlife, the mountain gorillas also face several threats which include poaching, human wildlife conflicts, human diseases and more!
Where to Go Gorilla Trekking
There are four national parks where one can see the mountain gorillas in the wild;
• Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Natioonal park in Uganda
• Parc des Volcans aka Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
• The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire)
In Rwanda, most tourists visiting this beautiful country focus on gorilla tracking and observing the endangered silverback with their family members. Observing the mountain gorillas that are surprisingly playful and relaxed in the presence of humans, is one of the most life changing moments that you will experience on the African continent.
The Trek to the Gorillas
Hikes various national parks is a treasured moment which starts early in the morning with a brief orientation from the local guides at park headquarters. Groups of eight trekkers are guided by rangers and tour guides with the assistance of a porter and hike up the volcanoes to look for one of the habituated gorilla families in Rwanda. Depending on where the group starts their hike, trekkers may encounter walking long distances, coming across the different flora and fauna in the wild. During the trek (which could be muddy), the guide gives information about the the surrounding flora, and fauna that you come across.
There are several mountain gorilla families within the gorilla parks . Family members range between 10 and 30 members. The family is composed of a fully grown male silverback (namesd after the hair on their backs) as the head of the family, black bucks (youthly gorilas), females and juveniles. Because the gorilla families constantly move around the forest searching for food, the trek could take from one and two hours, depending on their current location in the forest.
Upon meeting the gorillas in the wild (the magical moment) toursits have an hour to encounter the family! You will see the primates grooming, playing and eating, as if they never noticed the arrival of curious human onlookers. The local guides use certain vocalizations around the gorillas that researchers to convey a message of peace to the family. These vocalizations were found by the late Dian Fossey during her study in the Volcanoes National Park. Appeased by the lack of threat, the gorillas will come out from their perches and rub past you as they play or look for delicious stalks of bamboo or one of the 142 varieties of plants represented in the silverback’s diet, including celery, nettles, thistles, succulent herbs, and wild berries.
It is common for playful baby gorillas roll past tourists or even touch pants legs if they get close enough. One of the most interesting parts of watching the gorillas in their natural habitat will be witnessing their human-like emotions and mannerisms. If you are an animal lover or simply enjoy adventure travel, gorilla tracking will prove to be a most memorable experience.