Gorilla Trekking in Africa

Gorilla Trekking in Africa

Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorillas. They are endemic to central and East African dense rainforests. They are called mountain gorillas due to their ability to live in the fairly high altitudes.

Mountain gorillas are descendants of the ancestral apes found in Africa and Arabia in the early years of Oligocene epoch that is to say from 34 to 24 million years ago. The mountain gorillas split from the group of their common ancestor with humans and chimpanzees which led to the formation of the genus gorilla. They evolved gradually to the state of physique they are at currently.

 A brief History about the habituation of mountain gorillas.

Gorilla habituation is another exciting tourist activity in East Africa most travelers find worthwhile. The activity entails movement through the thick rainforests too in search of wild mountain gorillas. It is however different in the sense that here, a traveler meets gorillas that aren’t fully habituated, spends ample time with them, participating in the conservation and habituation processes.

Gorilla habituation activities started in Rwanda, that was in the time after the German colonial army and scientists embarked on the efforts to make them accessible to humans. Gorilla habituation activities were initiated by the western scientists including George Schaller, Louis Leakey and Dian Fossey in the late 1960s.

Dian Fossey became famous for her deeds and extraordinary participation in the habituation processes of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. The groundbreaking wildlife film “gorillas in the mist” further made her much more famous amongst the wildlife enthusiasts.

These wonderful conservationists laid the foundation for the gorilla habituation activities and taught several individuals that have helped the legacy move on up to today.

Silverback gorillas.

Silverback gorillas are adult males in the gorilla families, identified usually by the swathe of silver hair on their backs. The silver hair signifies maturity and that they have lived for long enough to be entrusted with the protection of the entire group.  Silverbacks are renowned for their ability to lead the gorilla families in the jungle as they have learned from their predecessors over time.

They display high levels of aggression especially charging to individuals who appear as threats, chest beating, whooping, tree splashing – making way for the weaker individuals in the group and may engage in physical duels where need arises.

Mountain gorilla families

Mountain gorillas live in amore like human extended family kind of setting. Their families range in a size within an average of at least 10 members though some families can even go up to 40 depending on the level of collaboration within the members especially the silverbacks.

It is important to note that there are over 44 mountain gorilla families in the world today making up the total population of 1063 mountain gorillas. Mountain gorilla families can be found in the tropical rainforests across southern Uganda, northern Rwanda and in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mountain gorilla lifespan.

The lifespan of mountain gorillas is a fairly long one.  These gentle giants can live up to 50 to 60 years.    They showcase as a low breeding pace. It is therefore amazing how they only give birth every after an average of four years.  The mothers and aunties in the gorilla families take care of the infants and juveniles until they are old enough, fully grown into adults to take care of themselves.

This care contributes to the lifespan of the gorillas.  The guidance of the silverbacks over the years further helps the gorillas to live longer as they are helped avoid danger and maneuver through the danger zones in the jungle. Within a family, there are high chances of being protected in the jungle until an individual is fully grown to face the enemies and threats in solitude which explains why they tend to live longer.

Mountain gorilla diet.

Mountain gorillas feast mainly on a vegetarian diet. They usually feed on shoots of bamboo, tree leaves, stems of some smaller crops and roots as well. Mountain gorillas also feast on fruits in the jungle.  However, it is important to note that they have been seen multiple times feasting on some invertebrates.  They showcase an appetite for worms, insects and snails. The mountain gorillas also feast on barks and rotting wood, they acquire sodium from them that helps support their lives.

Where can one see mountain gorillas?

Adventurers seeking to watch and spend time with the mountain gorillas can encounter them in basically two areas.  One of them is in Bwindi impenetrable National Park in Uganda and the other is in the Virunga mountain ranges. The Virunga mountain area is a vast area. It is shared amongst the three countries that is to say Uganda Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Over the past two decades, these countries have gazetted national parks to ensure that the mountain gorillas are well conserved and protected from uncouth human activities that would lead to their extinction. The national parks have numerous habituated gorilla families that can be accessed by visitors.

It is however equally important to note that each gorilla family is allowed a maximum of only eight people to visit it per day. Travelers therefore need to book their permits in advance through registered tour operators who help them skip the hassle of acquiring the permits and just go to the destinations to explore.

The 3 popular mountain gorilla trekking destinations.

Bwindi Impenetrable national park.

Bwindi impenetrable National Park is home to the oldest tropical rainforest on the African continent. The forest harbors 25 fully habituated gorilla families. Bwindi is divided into 4 mountain gorilla trekking sectors – Nkuringo, Buhoma, Ruhija and Rushaga that are scattered in the four different directions of the park.

Each of the four sectors provides distinct experiences to the travellers. Bwindi lies in the southwestern part of Uganda in Kanungu district covering an area of approximately 331 square kilometres.

The park further extends to the edge of the Albertine rift in the western branch of the great East African Rift Valley elevating up to 1160 to 2607 meters above sea level. Such characteristics make it a favourable habitat for the mountain gorillas lives to flourish.

Mgahinga national park.

Mgahinga national park is another exhilarating mountain gorilla habitat to check out for never to be forgotten wild gorilla encounters. The park spans an area of approximately 33.9 square kilometres in the South of Uganda.

It is beautified by the three of the eight Virunga volcanoes it engulfs. The volcanoes provide an extremely incredible trekking experience as travellers get to meet the gentle giants after traversing through the thick tropical rainforests, hiking through the lush vegetation covered slopes of the volcanoes, crossing streams and maneuvering through shrubs.

Visitors get to watch the mountain gorillas as they also enjoy the breathtaking views of the entire Virunga massif. Mgahinga is home to only one gorilla family – Nyakagezi comprised of nine members that offer sensational gorilla trekking experiences.

Volcanoes national park.

Volcanoes National Park is yet another incredible habitat for mountain gorillas that cannot miss mention. Visitors should endeavor to check it out to have a feeling of the aristocratic presence of the mountain gorillas up close.

Visitors to the park have the opportunity to meet one of the 13 fully habituated gorilla families therein. Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s only National Park with mountain gorillas. It is located in the northwest of Rwanda occupying an area of about 160 square kilometres.

When to visit Africa for gorilla trekking?

Dry months of the year are the very best and appropriate months in which one can undertake uninterrupted safaris to watch the mountain gorillas. The dry months are characterized by low rainfall, the favorable weather enables the visitors to trek through the mountainous terrain and thick rainforests with no hassle. Visitors therefore get to explore more of the national parks and have ample time with the mountain gorillas.

The dry seasons in the Virunga massif usually occur mid year and at the end of the year. They are categorized into two that is to say the long dry season that usually runs from June to early October on the short dry season that runs from December January and February.

What to pack when going for a gorilla trekking safari?

Visitors embarking on the mountain gorilla safaris are advised to always pack appropriately for the activity in order to have an interrupted experience.

It is substantial for a traveller to have a day park in which they can fit most of their essentials especially the personal medicine, snacks, drinks and cameras to capture the moments.

An appropriate dress code is equally advised. Travellers are encouraged to dress in long sleeved shirts and trousers to ensure that they aren’t pierced by the thorns as they maneuver through the shrubs and thick tropical rainforests.

Hiking boots are essential too. They help the visitor to maneuver through slippery and mountainous terrain with ease.