Approximately 800 mountain gorillas are left in the world. A majority of these are found in the Virunga massif. The Virunga massif extends over international boundaries. This makes conservation of this fragile ecosystem even more challenging. The surrounding hills are highly populated recording some of the highest population densities in the world. Besides the high population density, the civil strife in DR Congo has not abetted despite the continued presence of the international forces. To make mountain gorilla conservation worthwhile, the three governments of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo introduced gorilla tracking.
Note, unlike in the zoos, gorillas in Virungas are wild. Before any tracking can be done, these have to undergo a long process of habituation. During this time the researchers well versed in gorilla behaviour identify a viable family for habituation. For habituation, the family must have at least 5 individuals. Habituation involves making the family to get used to human presence. With hostile silverbacks, this is not easy. Some of the researchers have even been charged and sustained injuries. However once the family members are used to humans, there is minimal chance of injuries. However habituation does not prevent the silverbacks from exercising mock charges. That is why all tourists are advised not to imitate chest beating as silverbacks will interpret that as a challenge to its authority. Once habituated, mountain gorillas will approach you to touching distance. However visitors are discouraged from getting into contact with gorillas. Likewise all persons less than 15 years of age are not allowed to track gorillas. These two precautions ensures that communicable diseases are not transferred from humans to gorillas. Remember humans share 98% of their genes with gorillas. Likewise any person suffering from communicable diseases is discouraged.
To avoid confrontations with the silverbacks, visitors are advised to keep their distance( flight distance is the distance that an animal will keep away from another for fear of getting injured. The more dangerous the other animal, the further the flight distance.) To be on the safe side, just follow the instructions of the guide.
To keep the environment clean, visitors are advised not to litter the park in anyway. The policy is to leave only your footprints. Visitors must carry back all the litter they bring into the forest. Bury all the faeces.
Gorilla Tracking Safaris in Rwanda takes place in the morning. Visitors report at the park headquarters for briefing and guide allocation. There after they leave for the hiking trails. Depending on the location of gorillas, hiking takes 2-6 hours. Any person of average physical fitness can track gorillas comfortably as the pace of tracking is set by the slowest member of the group. Gorilla tracking safaris can easily be combined with the Great Wildebeest Migration Safari featuring wildebeest migration in Maasai Mara and Serengeti 11 days and the Kenya highlight tour 9 days.
Altitude: Tracking takes place in altitudes of about 3000 meters above sea level. Thus trackers are advised to take their time. Do not run up the mountains. Take your time to enjoy the scenery.
Gorilla tracking is a whole day affair with clients reporting at the park headquarters at 07:00 hrs. However depending on the location of the gorillas, some guest do finish tracking as early as 12:00 Hrs. If one completes this early, the afternoon can be spend visiting the local communities of Lake Burela and Ruhondo or even at Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu.
What to bring:
In addition to safari accessories-note books, cameras, video cameras, pens, dressing is very important when tracking gorillas. Short sleeves and are completely discouraged as thorny nestles will ruin your skin. Likewise you need hiking boots for firm grip as sometimes the ground is muddy. Gloves are important as sometimes you will grasp into thorny bushes to avoid a fall on slippery tracks. Bring a raincoat as it rains without warning. To protect your camera, have a water proof container. Bring a long a warm cardigan as sometimes it gets extremely cold.
Accommodation while tracking gorillas: There are several options available for those tracking gorillas in Rwanda. Accommodation hotels vary from luxury to mid-range to budget. Luxury options exists at Virunga Volcanoes Lodge and Sabyinyo Community Silverback Lodge. Mid range accommodation is offered by Gorilla Nest Hotel and Gorilla Mountain View Lodge. Budget accommodation is available at Kinigi Guest House. Some guests prefer accommodation at Ruhengeri (Musanze).
Gorilla Tracking permits
Gorilla permits can be bought as early as a year in advance or even on the tracking day. Our advice is always avoid the last minute purchase as in most cases you will be disappointed . SEE Gorilla Tracking permits-When to Buy/ Book your permit
For more details and gorilla tracking safaris contact R&N Xplorer Africa Safaris