Trekking mountain gorillas is the most popular tourist attraction in Rwanda and Uganda but the activity became extremely difficult following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.
This was caused by the suspension of international travel and the temporary closure of the parks that protect these endangered species in order to safeguard them from the virus.
How lockdown impacted gorillas
Like humans, gorillas too felt the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown. Poaching increased in gorilla habitats which led to the killing of one silverback gorilla in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. This was partly attributed to the reduction of daily monitoring of the gorillas by rangers due to need to limit human contact with them as a way of protecting them from contracting the virus. On the other hand, about 7 baby gorillas were born in the same park during the lockdown period.
How dangerous is Coronavirus to gorillas?
Gorillas, which share up to 98% of the human DNA are highly susceptible to human viruses which may be fatal to their population in case of an outbreak within the habitat. The fatality of Coronavirus among gorillas is not yet known but comparisons can be made to the outbreak of Ebola among the gorillas in Gabon forests in the mid 90s which claimed hundreds of them.
Strict reopening of gorilla parks
Gorilla parks including Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park were reopened for gorilla trekking after about 3 months of closure. However, this time authorities had adopted new measures for the exercise in order to safeguard gorillas from contracting Coronavirus.
New guidelines for gorilla trekking
After learning that Coronavirus maybe equally fatal to gorillas like to humans, wildlife authorities came up with new measures to regulate gorilla trekking in order to safeguard the animals. These include requiring all visitors to present negative results from a Covid-19 test taken in less than 72 hours. Others include visitors maintaining social distance both within the park and outside, regular sanitisation of hands and observing a relative distance of about 8 meters away from the gorillas. These were added to the existing rules which include not littering or spitting in the gorilla habitat, maintaining silence while in their presence and minimising direct eye-contact with the gorillas.
Will you be required to quarantine?
Visitors coming for gorilla trekking and other tour activities in Rwanda and Uganda are subjected to a mandatory Covid-19 test on arrival at the airport. They are required to wait for their results from a designated hotel from where they are cleared to go to their respective tour destinations. Only those visitors who test positive for Covid-19 or show its symptoms are isolated or can decide to fly back to their home countries.
Covid-19 status in Rwanda and Uganda
Currently both Rwanda and Uganda have been going through the second wave of covid-19 though cases are now decreasing. Both countries have already eased on the lockdown restrictions that had been imposed to control this second wave following a significant reduction in the number of new cases and deaths. Since March 2020, Uganda has registered 95,875 cases of Covid-19, 2,808 deaths while over 90,000 have so far recovered. Rwanda has registered 76,091 cases, 890 deaths while over 65,000 have recovered already. Both countries are progressing well with their vaccination programs with at least 1.1 million people having received their first jab already.
What is the cost of trekking gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda?
A gorilla permit which allows visitors to see the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild is sold at $1,500 per person for foreign nonresidents in Rwanda while foreign residents and East African citizens buy it at $500. Uganda’s gorilla permit is sold at $700 per person to foreign residents and Uganda Shillings 250,000 to East African citizens. Other costs that maybe involved in a gorilla trekking safari include tips to guides and potters in case one is hired which range between $15 and $20 each.
What is the best time to trek gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda?
Gorilla trekking is carried out throughout the year in both Uganda and Rwanda but the experience is most rewarding in the dry months of June to September and December to February. Mountain gorillas live at high altitudes in montane rainforests which are hard to trek through in rain seasons due to slippery and wet conditions. It is also hard to locate gorillas on rainy days because they tend to confine themselves at one place for shelter against the rain unlike on dry days when they freely roam their habitat.