Is it safe to visit the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda, and Rwanda?

5 Days Gorillas, Queen Elizabeth Wildlife & Chimps Safari

Gorilla trekking to the mountainous jungles of Uganda, Rwanda or Congo where they can be found among no other places in the world is an experience longed for by many travelers across the world. Based on thousands of reviews posted, it is a positive statement to say the experience is magical, life changing and one of a lifetime. Much such gorilla trekking makes it to the top experiences of an African Safari, is the activity safe for visitors?

The Trek

The trek to see mountain gorillas starts in the morning after a pre trek briefing on the trekking etiquette. You are then led by a park ranger into the dense, beating heart of the rainforest. Gorillas in Uganda are best seen in Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park whereas in Rwanda, Gorillas are trekked in Volcanoes National Park, and when peaceful, gorillas can be seen in Virunga National Park in Congo (DRC). You hike along narrow, winding footpaths and through terrain that is slippery and often steep. Mountain Gorillas eat leaves, buds, and tubers (like wild celery), and are continuously on the move, foraging for their favorite foods. They eat morning and afternoon, interspacing their dining habits with a midday nap. Finding the gorillas can almost be guaranteed for those willing to hike 1 to 4 hours or more in search of them. Scouts locate each group early in the morning and advise the warden of their locations indicating the length and difficulty of the hikes to reach them.

Each group of visitors that is to a maximum of 8 visitors is usually led by a park ranger, two trackers, and two armed personnel. Porters may be hired (for US $20.00 as of this writing) to carry lunch, drinks, etc., and to assist anyone who may wish to return early. The search often involves climbing down into gullies, then pulling yourself up steep hills by holding onto vines and bamboo. Even though the pace is slow, you must be in good condition to keep up; the search may take you to altitudes of 3,800 to over 6,500 feet (1,160 to 1,982 m) or more. While this sounds difficult, almost anyone in good physical condition can do it. The guide looks for nests used the night before, and then tracks them from that spot.

Once the gorilla group has been located, he then calms them by making low grunting sounds and imitates them by picking and chewing bits of foliage. Juvenile gorillas are often found playing and tend to approach their human guests. The guide will do his best to keep you at the required distance (primarily to help ensure the gorillas do not catch any communicable human diseases) of 22 feet (7 m). Adult females are a little more cautious than juveniles. The dominant male called a silverback because of the silvery-grey hair on his back, which usually keeps a bit further from his human visitors. 

Gentle or not?

In terms of sensitivity toward the great primates and to afford you the best chances of a close and relaxed encounter, simple gorilla-viewing “etiquette” is critical. It is not advisable to make eye contact with a silverback. If a silverback begins to act aggressively, look down immediately and take a submissive posture by squatting or sitting, or he may take your staring as aggression and charge. The key is to follow the directions of your well-trained guide. Gorillas are herbivores (vegetarians) and will generally not attack a human unless provoked. Your guides will instruct you not to touch the gorillas because they are susceptible to catching human colds and diseases.

There are also no recorded incidents of serious attack or harm caused by the gorillas out on a trek and despite having the strength to wrestle a tiger, these majestic creatures are remarkably docile and tender, and vegetarians to boot. It’s this kindness and intelligence that makes their presence so heartwarming and magical.  It’s important to know that the mountain gorillas that trekkers are permitted to visit have become habituated to the presence of humans.

Are you guaranteed to see the mountain gorillas on a visit?

At Masai Mara Holidays (Ltd), Our guests seeking to see mountain gorillas often ask us if they are guaranteed to see mountain gorillas? The gorillas are completely wild and are free to roam as they choose so a hundred percent guarantee cannot be given, however,  the likelihood of sighting gorillas is very high as they are tracked carefully on a daily basis by the park rangers. We are yet to experience or hear from any of our visitors who did not sight the gorillas.  

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