Being the most sought after safari adventure in Africa, Gorilla trekking is a sensitive activity which when not controlled and well managed, may negatively impact on the lives of the mountain gorillas. In a bid to regulate the activity, the governments of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda (the only countries with mountain gorillas) decided to make permits which are more expensive than any other wildlife permit in order to limit the number of visitors and create sustainability of the activity.
The gorilla permit costs $400 in Congo (DRC), $750 in Rwanda and $600 in Uganda. These gorilla permits help in limiting the number of people trekking the gorillas in order to limit stress on these apes and on their habitat, that may result in their change of behavior or even death. There is only a maximum of 8 permits per gorilla group sold each day to make sure the gorillas are not overwhelmed by the human presence.
In order to make the gorilla trekking sustainable, respective governments and wildlife organizations came up with a set of guidelines trekkers have to follow in order to remain harmonious with the gorillas, below are some of them;
A maximum number of 8 visitors are allowed to visit a group of habituated mountain gorillas in a day. This minimizes social disturbance and stress to the gorillas and the risk of their exposure to human-borne diseases.
You are supposed to keep your voices low in order not to scare them away or irritate them. Noise may also hinder you from tracing their position in the forest if you do not pay attention to hear their vocal communications. You will also be able to observe the great bird life and other wildlife in the forest.
You must not leave any litter in the park. Whatever you bring into the forest should be carried back with you to avoid degrading the gorilla’s habitat and also the resultant diseases from such pollutants.
When you approach the mountain gorillas, you are advised to keep a distance not closer than 7 meters for your own good and the health of the mountain gorilla. You are guaranteed 1 hour to see, observe and take photos and even ask your guide all you need to know about the gorilla.
You must stay in tight group when you are near the gorillas and follow your guide’s instructions.
Smoking, drinking or eating when you are near the gorillas is prohibited. Eating or drinking inevitably will increase the risk of food/drink morsels/droplets falling, which could increase the risk of transmission of diseases.
If the gorillas charge (attempt to attack), follow the guide’s example (crouch down slowly, do not look the gorillas directly in the eyes and wait for the animals to pass). Do not attempt to run away because that will increase the risk.
Flash photography is highly forbidden. When taking pictures move slowly and carefully and make sure your camera is not producing any sound or flash.
Do not touch the gorillas because they are wild animals and therefore unpredictable. They can do anything at any time.
After the visit keep your voices down until you are 200 meters away from the gorillas.
If you are feeling ill, or you have a contagious disease like flue, volunteer to stay behind. An alternate visit will be arranged for you, or you will be refunded your money. This is because the gorillas can be infected by any human disease and treating them is costly
If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of bacteria or virus.
If you need to go to the toilet while in the forest, please ask the guide to dig you a hole with his panga / hoe. Make sure the hole is 30 cm deep and cover it when you finish.
The above guidelines have played a key role in improving the gorilla population in the world by safeguarding their health and protection. You are expected to respect and follow them if you are to have a memorable trek.
Apart from the guidelines, the governments of the respective gorilla countries introduced a revenue sharing strategy with the local communities that surround the gorilla habitat. 20% of the revenue collections from the gorilla permits are given to the communities in form of supporting their income generating projects, improving social services like schools and health centers among others.
10 years back, Rwanda introduced the Kwita Izina (Gorilla naming) ceremony for the new born gorilla babies which is always celebrated every year. During the week for the ceremony, mass sensitization of the community is done to educate the people about the conservation benefits and strategies, which has improved conservation efforts and reduced poaching. During this ceremony several guests including international figures and conservation bodies, attend and contribute funds either directly or indirectly towards conservation of the mountain gorillas as they give names to the baby gorillas. It is because of Kwita Izina that Rwanda has seen the population of this ape grow tremendously in the recent years.
As you stare into the eyes of a mountain gorilla you’ll likely feel a connection, one unlike you’ve ever experienced before. A connection of peering into the eyes of an exotic creature that looks and acts quite a bit like we humans do. Tracking this ape is itself a great contribution towards its sustainability since the money paid is invested in its conservation that includes purchasing the drugs and paying the doctors that often treat them. This is in addition to the gorilla doctors’ project that is much concerned with managing the health of these great apes.