Meeting a gorilla family in the wild is one of the most unique and breathtaking wildlife experiences in the world. Gorillas share 98% of the human DNA and live in social groups or families by led alpha males known as silverbacks.
Mountain gorillas in Bwindi
Bwindi impenetrable national park is located in southwest Uganda and it protects the highest number of mountain gorillas in the world. There are currently about 1,064 mountain gorillas in the world with about 500 of them living in Bwindi. The rest of their population is found in the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda where they live in 3 different national parks. These include Volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Virunga national park in DR Congo and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda.
Gorilla trekking in Bwindi
Gorilla trekking is more pronounced in Uganda and Rwanda due to the availability of the habituated gorilla families in the parks and the stable security situation which is not the case with DR Congo. Bwindi is the leading gorilla trekking destination in the region given the high number of habituated gorilla family in the park and the low cost for the experience compared to Rwanda. Bwindi has about 20 habituated gorilla families within its boundaries with each gorilla family tracked by a separate group of trekkers once per day. Bwindi impenetrable national park is demarcated into 4 gorilla tracking sectors to aid the smooth running of the experience and control human interference with the gorillas. The four sectors include Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
In another unique fashion, Bwindi is so far the only park where visitors are permitted to take part in the gorilla habituation exercise. During the habituation process, a group of wild mountain gorillas is tracked by rangers daily for a period of time with an aim of making the gorillas in the group get used to the presence of humans. After successfully completing this process, the group is officially announced as habituated and trekkers can start visiting it.
Getting ready to meet a habituated gorilla family in Bwindi
Early morning on the day of trekking, visitors gather at the park offices to be briefed about the experience. They are told key facts about the gorilla group they are going to trek as well as the guidelines to observe while in the presence of the animals. Before the briefing, visitors are entertained by a group of traditional performers from the local Bakiga community who sing and dance before the guests.
After the briefing, visitors are led by a park guide and 2 rangers into the forest to search for their allocated gorilla family. Along the way, the guide keeps feeding visitors with important information about gorillas as well as other wildlife species in the park. The guide and the rangers keep in touch with the trackers who follow the gorillas to know where exactly to take visitors. Trackers play a vital role as they help visitors locate their gorilla families easily and without them it would be very difficult to see these gorillas in the forest.
Meeting face-to-face with the gorilla family
When the guide and rangers get a signal from the trackers that the gorillas have been found, they lead guests to the exact location where the animals are. Visitors are handed over to the trackers who lead them to the gorillas. Upon finding the gorillas, trekkers are permitted a full hour in their presence as they observe them. Habituated gorillas are very calm and relaxed in the presence of of visitors. They tend to stay unbothered and continue with their business as visitors gaze at them and take their pictures. Visitors are able to see several members of the family including the silverback, females or mothers in the group, juveniles, infants and blackbacks. During this magical hour, gorillas are observed as they forage, play, rest and roam through the habitat all of which leave visitors with lifetime memories.
A reward for gorilla trekking
Upon a successful completion of the gorilla trekking exercise in Bwindi impenetrable national park, visitors are awarded a gorilla tracking certificate. This is sometimes referred to as graduation of the gorilla trekking exercise.