When you go gorilla trekking in Rwanda, remember there are only around 700 Mountain gorillas alive in the world, and half of this population lives in Rwanda and Uganda, this exhausting trekking activity, mostly up at Karisimbi Volcano (4507m) in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Formerly, the Susa group was the biggest family, but they have since split into two smaller groups. The activity itself is one of the most emotional and challenging experiences of a lifetime. But most importantly, it makes you realize how privileged I could be to meet them, and the danger our closest relatives are still in.
Mountain gorillas do not survive in captivity and are very susceptible to human diseases, so you will not see one in any zoo. With 98.5% of their genes similar to us humans, just looking into one’s eyes will tell you there is a lot of human-like intelligence there. But this similarity is also very dangerous. In 2009, two gorillas from the Hirwa group in Rwanda died from what is now believed to have been a human pneumonia virus infection. Gorillas have been hunted, as recently as in the last couple of years, and their mountainous home forest is shrinking at an alarming pace under the pressures of overpopulation and the need for farming land.
Luckily, through research, most famously Diane Fossey’s work in the 1960s and 70’s, education, and especially carefully controlled tourism, the Mountain gorilla population have now increased to an estimated 786. A permit is expensive, but for a precious hour, you get one of the most memorable wildlife experiences on earth, and the money is used to fund research and conservation. Thankfully the governments of Rwanda and Uganda have realized that live gorillas are much more valuable than the unspeakable alternative.
Help save the gorillas
The best ways to help save the gorillas are through tourism, but make sure you book your permit through a reputable operator and do not go on a trek if you are ill. Also stay well away from the gorillas when you are with them, although this is not always possible, sometimes curiosity gets the better of them too.
Touched by a gorilla
One visitor to Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp in Bwindi, Uganda discovered just how unpredictable and curious gorillas can be. The local gorilla family simply walked through the camp, and under the watchful eye of the silverback, some of the younger family members started grooming his hair. When you encounter the silverback of the Susa group, you can be terrified; he can move a lot faster than his huge almost 300kg hulk suggested, you can only imagine the adrenaline pumping through him at that moment!
Gorilla trekking tips
Take lots of water and some snacks. Some groups can be close to base camp, but some can be a couple of hours hiking up some very steep paths, as it’s advisable on any trek.
Wear good hiking boots, long light-weight trousers, and gloves (like gardening gloves) are great as protection against nettles.
Take a few days to acclimatize to the altitude before you attempt the trek. Learn more about the history and culture and go shopping shop for beautiful local wood carvings and delicate baskets.
Take a spare camera memory card and make sure your camera is fully charged, but leave your heavy flash behind; you are not allowed to use it as it might scare the gorillas.
Most of all, enjoy it! It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
See them for yourself
You can still get a gorilla permit for trekking in Rwanda for US$750, In Uganda, the permits are still around US$600, and gorilla safari packages can help you book a gorilla permit in advance prior to your memorable gorilla visit in East Africa