Travel in Uganda: Trekking for Mountain Gorillas

There are three main subspecies of gorillas in the world: eastern lowland, western lowland and mountain gorillas. Although there are over 100,000 eastern and western lowland gorillas in current population, mountain gorillas are still a critically endangered species, with less than 900 gorillas remaining on Earth today.

DSC_9491These wild mountain gorillas can be found high in the mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Congo.DSC_9521
Applying for a permit to visit the gorillas is a lengthy and expensive process. Permits cost around 500 USD, and need to be applied for well in advance, since only eight people are allowed to visit one gorilla family each day. Overall, this makes for a very intimate and special experience, and an extreme privilege to be able to visit this diminishing kind. 🙂16300305_10106313988034247_8642560522678929066_o
Gorillas in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Our tour group of 20 was issued permits to trek in the Bwinidi Impenetrable Forest. We were split into three tracking teams, where each tracking team would be assigned to one of the five different gorilla families living here.

16179199_10104172589723750_5471025458284345273_o DSC_9525My group was assigned to trek for the Mishaya group.DSC_9355Mishaya means “long jaw” and the group is named after the dominant silverback male in the group. DSC_9382There are twenty mountain gorillas in the Mishaya group, including seven baby gorillas.

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mom holding baby

This group is followed daily by local trackers, who monitor their behavior and well-being. It took our group almost two hours to reach the family, accompanied by our local guide, Obed, as well as, two guards with automatic weapons, who were there to protect us from other predators of the jungle. 03ACDFBC227930EB6A45C6F9A699A7D4They use the weapons to fire shots in the air, to scare away the animals.DSC_9371

DSC_9360On the trek, although I was anxious just to reach the gorillas, I couldn’t help but stop and stare in wonder at the beautiful mountains surrounding us.DSC_9363When we finally reached the family we were given rules to during the visit, including what to do if a gorilla approaches or touches you. DSC_9477We could spend a maximum of one hour with the gorillas, and needed to avoid human contact, in order to prevent disease transmission. They also advise not to make eye contact with them, which is seen as a sign of aggression. Lastly, even if you’re afraid, never run away. 😮DSC_9519Prior to visiting the gorillas, I had assumed that the family would be sitting in the forest; however, in the beginning, that was definitely not the case! It was quite hectic and stressful as we raced through the jungle just to keep up with the group for the first twenty minutes. The terrain was hilly, slippery and covered in thick branches and muddy ditches. We would catch small glimpses of the silverback or a small baby before they would take off again into the jungle. DSC_9405They moved so quickly and got so close to us, it left everyone amazed, but on-edge at the same time. It was as if one false move could land us in contact with these powerful creatures.16403426_10106314561320377_9209932510479544584_oAt one point our guide Obed even told me to stand still. Apparently the female gorilla was approaching me with a warning, since I was holding my GoPro up and apparently it looked threatening to the female mother.DSC_9438I slowly lowered my selfie stick and thankfully the gorillas walked away. 🙂DSC_9421After twenty chaotic minutes, the group finally settled down and we were able to calmly watch them as they munched on bugs inside logs.

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baby eating bugs

At one point, a baby gorilla came flying down the tree like a firefighter on a pole. My hair was covered in brush, and one girl in our group got hit in the head with a piece of fruit that the gorilla had been holding. 😛F3AE99AEF27693506ACF88402793D169The hour spent with the gorillas was filled with moments of awe and adrenaline. We were constantly monitoring these powerful creatures, which at times seemed a little too close for comfort.

DSC_9483In the end I found this to be one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had to date, and definitely each tracking groups experience will vary. Although these gorillas are habituated to humans, at the end of the day, they are still wild animals, capable of unpredictable behavior.DSC_9466A good example of this would be with the Pushaya tracking group from our tour. Ironically, Pushaya, named after the male silverback, means peaceful; however, he was anything but cordial, as he decided to charge at the group and show his fangs. For this reason, the tracking team had to leave in search of a different family. Their tracking experience was far from calm, as they spent nearly seven hours on the move searching for these gorillas. One girl fell into a muddy elephant footprint, one guy got attacked by a bunch of ants on his arm, and another girl ended up dislocating her shoulder from a bad fall. Since people pay so much for these permits, they will refund you 50% if you don’t find the gorillas, and they also offer additional services like a porter to carry your things for 15 USD, and even as extreme as being carried there on a stretcher, starting at 300 USD.

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Our group was all smiles after visiting the gorillas! 🙂
In the end, I found we were quite lucky with our sighting. Our guide Obed gave us a certificate at the end of the day to show we had successfully completed the trek, and thanked us for our permit money, which is used for conservation of the park and this beautiful great ape species.IMG_7986IMG_8018Gorilla trekking certificate. 🙂20170127_150604
We ended the day as a group back at our hotel, the Rafiki Lodge, for a serving of jungle juice- vodka, whiskey, rum, fresh fruit and juice. It didn’t take much to put everyone to sleep for another early bed time. 😛d1939b1a387385043b45e6ade8962f82
This worked out well, as the next day we would be off to Rwanda, and we would need plenty of rest. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 😀
Cost: 500-1,000 USD (300-600 USD permit cost (variable by season) + 35-50 USD transport cost + 10-15 USD guide tip)

It’s expensive; however, you get to say that you were one of the few people on Earth to see mountain gorillas in the wild. 😀

They cannot to be found in captivity, and your monetary donation helps conservation efforts. Currently mountain gorillas are in danger of habitat loss, disease, and poaching, and this money is making a real difference in saving this species. ❤
http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/endangered_species/great_apes/gorillas/mountain_gorilla/

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