Mountain gorillas are the most endangered apes found in protected afro montane forests in northwest Rwanda, eastern DRC and South west Uganda. The mountain gorilla is one of the species that is unique to the forest. These forests are home to many bird species, primates, mammals, insects, plants, reptiles and many more. These primates were unknown to science until 1902 when they were first discovered by a German explorer who killed some of them. The gorillas have faced lots of deforestation as well as poaching. These were conserved by the great primatologist Dian Fossey who was later killed in Rwanda in 1985 and was buried just near her favorite gorilla “Digit”.
Presently, there are about 1000 mountain gorillas living in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa, in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. These tropical forests also harbor lots of mammal species, reptiles as well as birds. These mountain gorillas climb trees but are also found on the ground in communities of up to 30 individuals. The troops are organized depending on the social structures and are led by the dominant silverback. The troops include many other young females and the off springs. The leader organizes the activities including nesting, eating and moving around. These have got longer hair and shorter arms than their lowland cousins.
In the process of trying to show power, a silverback might stand upright, can make aggressive charges, throw things and pound his huge chest as he barks out powerful hoots. However, the mountain gorillas are calm and non aggressive unless they get disturbed. The female gorillas give birth to one infant after a pregnancy of nine months. The newborns are so tiny weighing about 4 pounds. The infants are known to ride on their mother’s backs from the age of four months through to 2 or 3 years of age. The young gorillas are mainly taking care of the children and spend most of their day playing, climbing trees, swinging from one branch to another and chasing one another.
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are found in Volcanoes National Park consisting of 125km of the mountain forest and home to 6 Virunga Volcanoes as well as the mountain gorillas. This exciting hike to the gorilla’s natural habitat of the shady forest gives great views from all directions before the trackers are engrossed in the intimacy of the forest. The mountain gorillas in the Virunga region increased by 20% in 2000. The gorillas in Rwanda total to 400 and half of the rest are found in Bwindi impenetrable national park and others In Virunga national Park.
There are many conservation efforts that are meant to aid the mountain gorillas and it’s believed that their numbers might stay very steady or increase slowly. These mountain gorillas have continued to face many threats from poaching and habitat. The conservation efforts have improved the incomes that are collected from gorilla trekking and improved the lives of the local people that live near the national Park.
Best time to visit Rwanda
If you are looking for the best time to visit Rwanda for gorilla trekking, then consider the short dry season from Mid December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These same periods offer the easiest hiking conditions. You are free to visit Rwanda during the low season months of March, May, October, and November but bear in mind that there will be more rain that will make the hike so steep.
The best time to do chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe national Park is during the two rainy seasons of Mid February to early June and mid September to Mid December, since the chimps are easier to be located. Since the food is hard to find in the dry seasons, the chimpanzees decide to go far into the forest.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
When planning to visit Rwanda for a gorilla trek, there is a travel guide that will help you to conclude your trek in a calm way.
What is expected on the day of gorilla trekking?
Always carry a gorilla permit with you as leave your facility in the morning and make sure that you have packed all the needed gears like the trekking boots, gloves, rain jackets, packed lunch, long sleeved wear, walking stick and many more.
Always carry your passport with you as you head to the head quarters for the pre trekking briefing by the park rangers. You have your permits cross checked with the passport to confirm that you are the right owner of the permit.
You are also expected to carry packed lunch since the time of seeing the gorillas is uncertain. A cup of coffee is served to the trekkers as you enjoy the local traditional dancers to give you a good start of this exciting day.
After having the briefing about the dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking, you are grouped in groups of 8 people and assigned to 1 family to start the trek. The country has got 10 gorilla groups hence 8 people are allowed to track on each day. Passing on a group depends on the fitness and the age of the trackers. Finding these mountain gorillas on a trek is unpredictable since the hardest family can be found within the first 30 minutes of your trek.
Each of the tracking group consists of the main guide and 2 scouts who carry guns, one walking from in front and another behind. These give protection in the forest against the wild elephants and wild gorillas. These scouts are well trained to fire the shots in the air so as to scare away the animals.
Each of the group has a pair of trackers who will be sent out in the morning to find the location of the specific gorilla group and assess where they might be headed. The trackers get to communicate the gorilla movements to the guides so that he decides on the best approach to meet the gorilla family.
In case you are not fit, please remember to let your guide know that he might help you hire a porter at the park gate. You can pay about $15 or $20 depending on what he is to carry.
Trekking to find the mountain gorillas
The duration of the hike to the mountain gorillas is impulsive depending on how far the gorillas have moved since they are wild animals. It might take like 30 minutes to find your gorilla family and as long as 7 to 8 hour. This forest is green, humid and light and there are no visible paths. The terrain has hills and steep volcano slopes where you will be required to put yourself up the steep grades by greedy into branches, bushes, plant roots. Always follow the lead of the guide as to trek. It also advisable that you always carry with you extra energy snacks and lots water to be able to slake your thirst and give you more energy.
The encounter with the Mountain Gorillas
Once you find the gorilla family, the clock starts to tickle, you always advised to stay quiet, and avoid the unexpected movements in order not to aggravate the gorillas. You can instead sit down and get to avoid direct contact in to the eyes of the gorillas since this might disturb them thinking that you want to fight them.
Always prepare your camera and get ready to take many photos as you want and remember to always remove the flash light and sounds.
The mountain gorillas might be feeding or moving around as they play about in the branches. Figure out the best view for photographs and get to learn the behavior. Get to follow the gorillas if they are moving but at a suggested distance which should be not shorter than 7 meters. Remember to stay near to your guide and follow his instructions always. You will be amazed when you see the silverbacks coming close and moving around as they show control over the territory.
The Frequently asked questions about Mountain gorillas
Even though much as been known about mountain gorillas, Many gorilla trekkers have unceasingly asked many questions on how to have a memorable gorilla trekking safari. The exclusion of mountain gorilla trekking adventure has brought many people including the researchers, school children, Travelers as well as the conservationists to know in depth about the mountain gorillas. There are over 1000 mountain gorillas remaining in Africa and these are considered to be endangered species.
How much is a gorilla permit?
Each of the three countries where mountain gorillas are found has got different price of a gorilla permit. The Uganda gorilla permit costs $ 600 per person per day for the non-Foreign resident, 500 per person per day for the foreign residents and shs 250,000 for the East African nationals. This price includes entrance fees, the permit, armed ranger guides to escort you throughout your trek.
Rwanda gorilla permits cost 1500 per person for the non-foreign residents and the foreign residents, $ 1000 per person for the foreign residents. DRC gorilla permits cost $450 per person per day. Gorilla Habituation Experience takes place in Bwindi impenetrable national park and it costs only $1500 per person and you are given 4 hours to spend with the mountain gorillas.
When is the best time to trek mountain gorillas
Since the gorillas live in the tropical rain forests with muddy and slippery grounds, the dry season is known to be the best time to track the mountain gorillas, this is between the months of June to September and then from December to February. Though, it’s known that the gorillas can be trekked during the wet season to make the safari more adventurous and so memorable. This means that gorilla trekking can be enjoyed throughout the year.
What is the best dress code for trekking?
Dressing the right way for Gorilla trekking is so helpful to each and every trekker. This includes having the hiking boots for the easy movements in the slippery grounds, the long sleeved shits, gloves for the protection against rush leaves & thorny bushes, the sun glasses and hats to protect you from the direct sun. Carry rain jackets and the warm light jackets that will provide warmth in the cold weather as well as the random rain showers. Carry some snacks and a lot of drinking water to cool your thirst.
What are dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking?
The dos and don’ts of gorilla trekking are mainly considered to be the rules and regulations of Gorilla trekking. Some of these include; keeping a 7meter distance from the mountain gorillas is compulsory for all the trekkers, this distance is known to prevent communicable diseases like flue and cough that might be harmful to these endangered species. The mountain gorilla trackers must avoid close contact with the gorillas even when they approach them. You are supposed to avoid Flash light cameras when taking photos.
Remember not to eat, drink or smoke when you are near the gorillas. These habits’ will increase the risks of food or drinks droplets falling that could increase the risk of transmission of diseases. Always keep your voices down at all time, but its fine to ask questions to the guide. Don’t touch the gorillas no matter what since these are wild animals and spend only 1 hour with the gorillas since this improves conservation.
The health rules of gorilla trekking include; respecting the limits that are put in place for visitors allowed with gorillas each day, this reduces the risk of transmitting diseases to the group. In case you feel ill, volunteer to stay behind and an alternative visit can be arranged for you or refunded back your money, in case you have the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the mountain gorillas, turn your head away in order to reduce the spread of bacteria or viruses. Don’t leave rubbish in the park and in case you want to ease yourself, ask the guide to dig for you a hole with the panga. The Hole must 30 cm deep and should be filled very well.
What is the trekking time?
With regards to gorilla trekking, the trek starts with an early morning breakfast at the lodge and then a briefing at the head quarters by the park rangers/ Guides. Once the trek starts, there is no specific time to spend in the forest but varies depending on the movements of gorillas and where they slept the last night. This also means that the trekkers can even meet the gorillas within a short time or can take up to 6 hours if not the whole day. Though the gorilla trekkers are 99% sure of meeting the gorillas.
Where do the mountain gorillas live?
There are over 1001 mountain gorillas that are surviving in Africa and these are found in only three countries including; Bwindi impenetrable National Park in Uganda and in Mgahinga Gorilla national Park in Uganda, Volcanoes national Park in Rwanda and Virunga nation al park in Democratic republic of Congo. It means that for one to see these endangered species, you must visit either Rwanda or Uganda since DRC is not safe for tourists.
What is mainly included in the gorilla permit price?
The price of the gorilla price includes park entrance, a Park ranger fee, who guides you during the trekking and other services in the national park apart of the accommodation facility. This also means that the permit covers park entrance fees and Ranger fees.
What is the age limit for the trekkers?
Its only travelers aged 15 years and above that are allowed to track the mountain gorillas. It’s an authorization that each and everyone below 15 years can’t be allowed to track the gorillas even when you have paid for the permit and travelled with other people in the group. The trackers are advised to read carefully and understand all the frequently asked questions about gorilla trekking and get the answers before confirming any gorilla safari to Uganda, DRC and Rwanda.
The mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park
Below are the gorilla families that are found in Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda
The Igisha group
This family comes from the Susa B group after untying in 2014; this group is currently led by Igisha silverback gorilla. It’s known as Susa B family and was named after the head silverback Igisha. It has got 26 members and one of the largest groups in the park. It’s known to be tough to trek it to see gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The name Susa comes from a nearby river that runs through the area where the group lives.
Kurira Gorilla family
This is the Susa A group and is found in Volcanoes national Park headed by Kurira alpha male silver gorilla. It’s the oldest group since the time of Dian Fossey that was created in 1774 with 7 mountain gorillas. This family extended to 42 gorillas which forced the group to split into two to come up with the Igisha family. In 2004, the family suffered a poaching attack where 2 adult gorillas that were protecting their 2 babies from the poachers were killed.
Amahoro gorilla family
The word Amahoro means peaceful gorilla family. It has got 17 members with 1 silverback, 5 adult females, 2 black backs, 2, juveniles, 2 sub adult males and 5 infant babies. The family is headed by gentle silver back called Ubumwe unluckily lost his family members to Charles in the meeting of these great wild creatures in their natural habitat.
The Umubano gorilla group
The word Umubano means neighborliness and has got 11 individuals including 1 silverback, 1 sub adult male gorillas, 6 baby gorillas, 3 adult females, and this silverback was so challenged by Umubano. When Charles became the silverback gorilla, he couldn’t ascertain the orders and at the end, forced to fight and challenge Ubumwe. These fought for weeks and months till Charles took some of the female members from Ubumwe and started his group and hence Umubano gorilla family.
This family broke off from the novel Susa A due to the continuous flights. It has got 15 members and is found on the Karisimbi volcano slopes that stands at an altitude of 4507m and is the highest mountain peak of Rwanda. The Susa B is good for the trekkers who are physically fit. These are also believed to have found a home on of Kaisimbi caldera slopes and this means that you can have the whole day tracking these creatures. These also move on top which makes the whole day challenging but worth trekking since its one of the rewarding groups in Volcanoes national Park.
Sabyinyo gorilla family
This family is one of the most reachable gorilla groups that are found at the lower slopes of mount Sabyinyo. It’s led by Guhondo the most powerful and famous silverback gorilla in all the gorilla families in Volcanoes National park. The group has got fewer mountain gorillas as compared to other families. It was named Sabyinyo Mountain meaning old man’s teeth. The group is located around the volcanoes national park and has got 8 members including 1 silverback, 1 non adult female, 3 adult females, 1 baby and 2 juveniles. The family can be tracked around Mount Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
The Kwitonda family
The group consists 18 members and it’s led by Kwitonda silverback gorilla. This group has moved from Virunga National Park DR Congo and tracking this family is so exciting just like Susa B group.
This family is known to be a lucky family and was introduced on 17th June 2006 at the time when the trackers saw its creation from other rising mountain gorillas from two gorilla families, ie the sabyinyo and group 13, this makes it the smallest group in Volcanoes national Park. It has got 9 individuals including 1 silverback, 2 sub adult females, 3 adult females and 3babies.
The Agasha family
This family has got 25 members and includes 1 silverback, 2 sub adult female, 3 juveniles, 7 babies, and 12 adult females. It was headed by Nyakarima who was defeated by Agashya who is the current leader. Agashya moved to volcano to seek protection of the family to avoid being interrupted by Nyakarima. The silverback is well known for its powerful grabbing of individuals from the rest of gorilla families and then succeeds the lonely gorillas into his making one of the largest groups. The silverback also moves to higher altitudes with the members and those planning to track this group, you need to be physically fit.
Bwenge gorilla group
The group has got 11 individuals including 1 silverback. The family can be trekked in Karisoke volcano slopes. The group is led by Bwenge silverback and was time-honored in 2007 at the time when it split off from his original family and other females joined him. This group has seen difficult moments in life due to the deaths of six infants. The family increased based on the fact that two births have been experienced in the past years. Tracking this group is so challenging and you need to be ready to climb for about three hours since the hiking steps become muddy.
The Isimbi Gorilla group
The family is led by Muturengere the alpha male silver back gorilla. The group is located in volcanoes national Park living in the slopes of mount Karisimbi. It was headed by Getty who died due to Pneumonia. The group was created after it divided itself from Karisimbi gorilla family in April 2013 which was too large. The trek to this group is regarded as a medium trek and its rewarding watching the group. It currently has 13 members.
The Muhoza family
The family was named after the 460 pound alpha male silverback with 12 gorillas of different ages. It’s the newest group in volcanoes national Park led by the youngest leading silverback Muhoza. It’s known to be the easiest family to trek in volcanoes national park and it’s located at the lower slopes of the mountain.
The family name is derived from the name of its leading silverback. It’s one of the oldest groups from the time of Dian Fossey when she was still carrying out here study about mountain gorillas in Karisoke Research center. Dian was fighting serious poaching against the mountain gorillas and Titus was the only survivor from his group establishing the Titus family and the oldest in the park. Titus died in 2009 at 35 years. The group has got 7 individuals and ranges from medium hike situated between the slopes of mount Karisimbi and Bisoke volcano.
Pablo Gorilla Family
This group is named after the dominant silverback mountain gorilla that headed the group for one year and was succeeded by Cantsbee. The family is situated along the slopes of Mount Karisimbi which is the highest of the Virunga Volcanoes. It’s so tough to trek this family due to the steep terrain and thick vegetation as well as under growth. It has got 26 mountain gorillas presently.
Rwanda’s mountain gorilla groups are watched directly by Dian Fossey fund since 1976. There are some groups that are under study by the researchers and students, these include; Musilikale, Gushimira, Mafunzo as well as Isabukuru.
ARON WISHLEY Founder & Director
NIMA SEDAN Chief Executive Officer
JOHN FALMI Head Manager