Gorilla Tracking in Uganda-The experience
GORILLA TRACKING IN UGANDA
Gorilla tracking has got to be on top of many ultimate bucket lists of travelers to Uganda (has a place in the top 10 do). A day’s trek to see mountain gorillas is special despite being one of the most expensive activities. Mountain gorillas are found in less than a handful of locations (3 countries) of Uganda, Rwanda, and D.R Congo. This write-up gives insight on gorilla tracking in Uganda.
It is an exhilarating experience, getting to see the mountain gorillas face to face. It (Gorilla tracking) is an incredible adventure that not anything tops seeing these giant apes in their natural habitat. In Uganda, gorilla tracking is done at 2 parks of Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga gorilla national parks. There are over 1064 mountain gorillas in the three countries and half of these are survive in Uganda’s 2 parks. Bwindi has 19 gorilla groups alone and Mgahinga has 1. The numbers in Uganda are the main reason why many choose it for gorilla tracking.
The experience and what to expect
Mountain gorillas are monitored daily and all people that have opted for gorilla tracking, have seen the gorillas. So you have a 95% chance of seeing these apes. But getting to Bwindi or Mgahinga, one should be prepared for the long drives. That is if you are not flying or accessing Uganda from the Rwanda side.
It takes almost a full day (about 10 hours) to drive from Uganda’s capital-Kampala to either Bwindi or Mgahinga. The drive includes stops at the equator, en route lunch stop, and goes through about 5 major towns in Uganda. This means you arrive at your lodge late in the evening. Mountain gorillas survive in the forests that cover the mountains in southwestern Uganda (2200m-4300m altitudinal range) and this means in the morning you have to rise to meet them after hiking in the dense forests.
Pulling out of your lodge in the morning, of course hoping for an epic experience, you have breakfast and carry packed lunch. You drive to the offices at a sector you were allocated, for Bwindi it is either Buhoma, Nkuringo, Rushaga, or Ruhija and Ntebeko for Mgahinga. Here you meet fellow trackers and guides for briefing before setting out for tracking.
Gorillas are not penned up in a cage despite having gone through the habituation process to get used to human presence. They can move freely and this means the tracking activity can take you anything from 2-8 hours even though others find them in 45 minutes. This depends on where the gorillas are located.
Usually, expert trackers set out before briefing to locate the gorillas, and they keep in contact with your guides and rangers on the location of the gorillas. This makes the activity easier, otherwise, tourists would wander the forest to get them. Guides carry Machetes and rangers carry guns. As the vegetation gets thicker and thicker, the guides pave the way using the machete and in case of attack by animals, the rangers scare shoot.
From the above account, as you may have guessed, you need to have a reasonable level of fitness to take on the encounter as it involves, ups and downs through the dense forest. The distances may be long and the terrain is pretty tough. Despite this, the elderly and physically unable can still track the gorillas after making advance plans with porters for carriage services. The potters use carriers to get to take the guest to and from the forest at around 350USD.
After finding gorillas, trackers are allowed an hour in the presence of the gorillas. A gorilla family is headed by an alpha male called a Silverback. In an hour you watch the gorillas feed, the young ones play, and for photography. After an hour, you head back and you are awarded a certificate as evidence that you tracked the gorillas and also supported conservation.
Gorillas can be tracked all year round, but during the wet season, the rain makes it more difficult. The drier months are best to enjoy tracking. Climate change is messing with the seasons but the traditional drier months are January to March and June to September.
Gorilla tracking safaris in Uganda are an expensive undertaking, but also where ever you do it, it is still expensive. In Uganda, a gorilla tracking permit costs 700USD as of 2021 and 1500USD in Rwanda. DR Congo is cheaper at 400USD but the unrests rule it out. Before going for gorilla tracking, one needs to book a gorilla tracking permit in advance. This can be booked through Uganda Wildlife Authority or your Tour operator.
Bwindi is just 62km south of the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park and you can combine a safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The safari includes a search for tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.
“If I ever have an opportunity to do this again, I won’t hesitate a second. And if you get the chance, take it”- Nomadic Matt