Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda, Silky black against the rainforest’s radiant green, a family of gorillas headed by a watchful but benevolent silverback male. The efforts of your forest trek evaporate in an instant and for one captivating hour you spend with them, an odd sense of familiarity settles on you. Young gorillas rough and tumble like wrestlers, maternal females gather in grooming groups, occasionally reprimanding the little ones, while the patriarchal silverback keeps a protective eye on the surroundings. The fact that gorillas as a species are on the brink of extinction and treks are a highly restricted activity, encountering wild gorillas is considered a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.
Uganda’s mountain gorillas live in the epically named Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest, a cloak of tangled green that covers the country’s south-west mountains. It’s a day’s drive from the capital Kampala or a quick flight so you’ll work a little harder to get there than in Rwanda but it’s worth it! Bwindi is a World Heritage Site with over 350 bird species and 200 kinds of butterflies and, thanks to income from trekking, its mountain gorilla population has grown by a third in recent years.
What to Expect on a Gorilla Trek in Uganda
For a gorilla trek you need to be fairly fit, equipped for the humid, muddy conditions of a rainforest hike, and in good health – gorillas are vulnerable to human illnesses but don’t have our immunities, which means a common cold can be deadly to a whole family of gorillas and you won’t be permitted to trek if you are unwell. Even in the dry season, the rainforest is a challenging environment: it’s humid, wet and muddy with some steep slopes, plenty of insects and thick vegetation.
Your professional guide and tracker lead you into the forest’s secret paths, looking for a habituated gorilla family. Once found, you’ll approach the gorillas quietly and settle down to observe them from between 7 and 10m (22 to 32 ft) away. You’ll spend between 40 minutes and an hour with the gorillas, watching the adults forage and groom each other while the babies tumble and play. You’ll be under the watchful gaze of the great silverback patriarch whose soft brown eyes constantly sweep over his family protectively. Witnessing gorillas express typically human gestures and emotions is a truly profound experience and one of the reasons that gorilla trekking is such a life changing encounter.
About Chimpanzee Trekking
While you may see chimps and other primate species on your gorilla trek, there are several superb chimpanzee trekking destinations, including Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream and the forested corners of Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks as well as Kibale Forest.
Chimpanzee trekking is quite different to gorilla trekking. Chimps are often found in easier trekking terrain than gorillas but they are wary of humans and harder to find. Only the habituated chimp families at Kibale Forest offer a similar encounter to gorilla trekking.
Traveller FAQs Answered:
Q: Will I definitely see the gorillas?
Because they are so closely monitored, and either researchers or trekkers are in touch with them every day, guides know more or less where the different families are and you probably have a 98% chance of seeing them. Of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals and an overnight thunderstorm or an unexpected encounter with a predator may cause a troop to move unexpectedly in a completely different direction but it’s likely that scouts will pick up their trail again soon. It is very seldom that trekkers don’t find the gorillas.
Q: Can I touch them?
No, absolutely not although we completely understand the instinct to want to reach out and cuddle an adorable baby. Firstly, because they’re wild animals and thus very strong and unpredictable – you could be severely injured. Secondly, gorilla populations are already under severe threat from logging, poaching and human encroachment on their environment plus they are highly susceptible to human diseases.
Not only can you not interact with them but you will have to keep a distance of at least seven metres / 22 feet at all time and, in some instances, wear a mask. If you are ill, you will not be allowed to trek so ensure you are in excellent health before you travel and take precautions not to pick up a bug on the plane over.
Remember, once you find the gorillas, you are only allowed an hour with them so as not to stress them out. This passes by in a flash so don’t spend all your time behind a lens: put the camera down after a few minutes and just bliss out watching them, grateful that you have the privilege of seeing them in the wild.
Q: How fit do I have to be?
With any strenuous activity, the fitter you are, the better. But this doesn’t mean that you need to be able to complete a triathlon or bench press three times your body weight.
Trekkers will be divided into groups of similar age and fitness levels, and the oldest and least fit people will generally be allocated the gorilla family that is nearest the starting point. You won’t be split up from family members or friends but – obeying the golden rule of hiking – the fastest walkers will have to slow down to the pace of the slowest so that the group stays together safely.
The fittest or youngest people will be chosen to find the group furthest away. Your guides are very experienced in assessing how the group is coping and will stop when necessary for a break, to drink water, admire a view or even have a snack (packed lunches contain water and perhaps energy-giving items like roasted cashews or peanuts, fruit like bananas or apples, chocolate bars, muffins, small sandwiches or bread rolls and local treats like ‘rolled eggs’ – a kind of omelette eaten cold).
It is always easiest to trek in the dry season. In the wet season, the mud can make trails slippery and the trek tougher. The gorillas and chimps may also seek refuge from the rain in nests or trees, making them harder to find and see. Take lightweight binoculars along to really bring their antics and expressions into focus.
Also, not all gorilla families will be lolling around, munching leaves and basking in the sunshine – some will be on the move. And they’re a lot better adapted to moving through their rainforest home than we are!
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