TRACKING the MOUNTAIN GORILLA | ADVENTURE TRAVEL
With so many species of animals threatened by extinction, it may be your dream to see some of these animals in the wild. One threatened group, the mountain gorilla, has inspired strictly-managed tours in the Volcanoes National Park in the Virunga Mountain region of northern Rwanda in Africa. This area contains approximately half the world’s wild population of approximately 900, all of which are concentrated on the African continent. So far, this special tourism and conservation effort has helped to increase the population of these intriguing animals as their health and well-being is closely monitored.
Interested in this bucket-list adventure? Here are some quick facts you should know.
- As the name suggests, this species lives at high altitudes, somewhere between 2000 to 4000 feet above sea level, and in dense vegetation.
- Mountain gorillas live in “families” usually consisting of a dominant male, immature males and females, fertile females, and babies. This could amount to a sizeable group of 20 or more but smaller groups of five or so are known. They are not territorial, but the dominant male or leader will defend his group from interlopers.
- Leaders are “silverbacks’ which are older gorillas who have developed the characteristic silver fur with age. “Blackbacks” are the younger males. The largest recorded silverback was six feet five inches tall with an arm span of eight feet ten inches, and weighed 483 pounds; however, the average silverback is not nearly as large as this, and the females are much smaller than the males.
- Mountain gorillas are active during the day, foraging for food and re-building nests from the surrounding vegetation, something done every day. This is lucky for the viewer as it provides daylight observation time.
- If their size and strength should frighten you, remember that these animals are shy and gentle creatures for the most part. Aggression is rare, and usually between rivals. Leaders are known to care for infants left bereft when a mother inadvertently dies or abandons her offspring. They are also known to be instinctively afraid of certain reptiles (eg. chameleons), some insects, and water. They do not like to get wet!
Foraging for food. (Image: Pixabay)
Mom and baby. (Image: Bigstock)
Rwanda landscape & Volcanoes National Park (Image: Bigstock)
Mountain gorillas do not like chameleons. (Image: Pixabay)
- You must purchase a permit to participate in a mountain gorilla “tour”. Currently (2019) it is US$1500 per person. Consider it your contribution to the preservation efforts of this animal!
- Daily visits are severely restricted in number, and your group of fellow trekkers will be small, about eight in number. Plan well in advance so as not to be disappointed.
- Your guide will take you to visit a designated family which could be up to a four-hour trek away (and back) from your starting point in the Park. If you are lucky, you may be assigned a family group much closer, perhaps an hour or less away.
- Because this visit could turn out to be a long hike, you should wear comfortable hiking shoes, and be fairly covered up to avoid skin contact from stinging nettles as you move through the dense vegetation.
- Water, a small snack, and a camera – no flash – are essential. Try to eliminate excess gear but porters are often available on these tours.
- Some things are forbidden: smoking, littering, getting within twenty odd feet of the gorillas, loud talking, spitting, and coughing without covering your mouth and turning away. You will not be allowed on the trek if you are exhibiting any signs of illness: gorillas can catch sickness from humans for which they may have little or any immunity. And as for the environment – their habitat – it should not be adversely affected by your visit, all common sense precautions.
- You will be allowed an hour during the trek to observe your group of mountain gorillas going about their daily life.
These gorilla tracking tours are an excellent add-on to a visit to Rwanda or a nearby African country, or on a southeastern Africa river cruise. If you are an animal lover, it might form the whole purpose of your visit. The permit may seem expensive but as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it is certain to be the highlight of your travels. Your travel professional can design a custom vacation including or around a visit to the mountain gorillas, or find a pre-set tour itinerary offered through various vendors of guided land tours. If you love nature, this is an adventure not to be missed.
Silverback Male (Image courtesy Mike Arney on UnSplash)