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Gorilla tracking - the nuts and bolts

Some guidelines for Gorilla tracking in Uganda and Rwanda

Derek

Derek

Guide book author with an extreme passion for Madagascar and Ethiopia!
Published on

15 May 2018

Read time

5 minutes

Gorilla Tracking Group Credit Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

Few wildlife experiences on Earth can compare with a visit to the Mountain gorillas in Parc National des Volcans (Rwanda) and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (Uganda). The golden hour that visitors are permitted to spend among a habituated group of these incredible primates, is simply unforgettable.

People inevitably ask questions concerning fitness levels required for tracking Gorillas. Certainly, a reasonable level of fitness and a surety of foot are needed, because for the most part, you'll be walking in uneven terrain at elevations of 2,500 - 3,000m a.s.l.

Time taken to reach a habituated family group of the Mountain gorillas varies considerably: in both Parc National des Volcans (Rwanda) and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda), you might reach them as quickly as 35 - 40 minutes. Or, getting to where the Gorillas are may take a few hours.

A typical day begins with a briefing at the Park HQ, during which visitors are allocated to different Gorilla family groups. Your fitness level and variables such as age, will be taken into consideration when the Head ranger allocates you to a particular group. A maximum of 8 people can visit one Gorilla group daily. For conservation reasons and to limit disturbance, activities in both parks are restricted to the mornings and time spent with Gorillas is strictly limited to one hour.

Gorilla Tracking
As this image illustrates, terrain is uneven and usually entails negotiating some steep slopes

You'll need footwear which is comfortable, preferably well-worn and with ankle support and a strong grip. This is because the scouts and trackers inevitably lead you off the designated trails and so, cut a path through dense montane vegetation. To protect yourself from vegetation - especially the prolific Stinging nettles - you would be expected to wear light, long trousers and we recommend taking gardening gloves.

At both of the national parks, porters are available and you can meet them during the briefing. They charge a modest amount, usually around US$20 and are worth every cent. They'll help you by taking your day pack in which you keep your water supply, snacks and in which you store clothing you may take off during the trek, because temperatures inevitably increase as the hike progresses. They'll also help carry your camera gear and protective wear for inclement weather. You may also wish to hire a walking pole.

Do note that Gorillas have no resistance to communicable human illnesses such as influenza, so anyone with a cold or flu may be refused the opportunity to visit the Gorillas. (If you are ill on the day or tracking, talk to your driver-guide and the head ranger about an alternative activity and securing a refund for the permit). To protect the health of the Gorillas, it is mandatory to keep a distance of 7 meters from them. Guests are also asked to keep voices down as low as possible from when within about 200 meters of the Gorillas.

Gorilla Tracking C Volcanoes National Park Website
Maintaining the required distance (courtesy Volcanoes National Park)

Finally, in terms of photography, flash is strictly prohibited. Bear in mind that the Gorillas are usually in dappled shade, so choose photographic gear to cater accordingly. The following link contains some excellent recommendations for equipment best suited for Gorilla photography: https://photographylife.com/go...


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