Mountain gorilla habituation experience in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest allows travelers to get within a few feet of a wild gorilla family and spend at least four hours with them in their natural habitat.
Have you wondered how often tourists get within two feet of a 600 pounds mountain gorilla without getting any harm? That intimidating giant beast could rip your arms out of their sockets in a flash. The simple answer lies in whether the mountain gorilla has been habituated to human presence in his space or not.
Mountain gorilla habituation is a process by which mountain gorillas, living in their natural habitat, are slowly and gradually exposed to human presence to the point that they regard us neutrally. There are two gorilla families currently under the habituation process (Bukingyi & Bushaho) in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The third gorilla group in Nkuringo, also currently under the habituation process, is not officially available for the experience.
While mountain gorillas within their natural jungle are wild beasts, mountain gorillas that have not gone through the habituation process are unapproachable, considering that they are unaccustomed to human presence. They are either likely to flee into the forest or be downright dangerous and aggressive.
Thankfully, that’s not the case when tracking gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Even though time and again, trackers are given that odd mock charge or even a finger pointed in their face by a grumpy silverback or black back uneasy at one coming too close, the gorilla experience is majorly a very peaceful and fulfilling one.
It takes about two to three years to fully habituate a gorilla group, a long and painstaking process if you ask me. This process is even longer for chimpanzees. It usually takes about seven years before a chimpanzee band is fully habituated.
The Mountain gorilla habituation process involves spending time with a gorilla group every day and gradually winning over their trust. Researchers mimic their behavior, pretending to eat the same food as they do at the same time, grunting, and even beating one’s chest when they do. For mountain gorillas, the initial weeks of habituation are fraught with danger for the human habitué, and repeated charges are expected.
Mountain gorilla habituation started well before the idea of charging tourists $700 for a gorilla permit was hatched. It is a vital process for research that allows primatologists to observe behavioral patterns of gorillas, chimps, golden monkeys, baboons, and other primates.
Certain sections of society view habituation as unethical because subjecting gorillas to human presence each day interferes with nature by changing their behavioral pattern. These also say that the risk of contagious disease infection to mountain gorillas has increased because of human interaction and making them more susceptible to attacks from poachers and non-habituated wild groups. These concerns are legitimate.
However, it is widely acknowledged that conservation efforts such as the mountain gorilla habituation experience have saved the mountain gorilla from extinction by poaching. It has raised these gentle giants’ profile, and proceeds from this tourism activity help fund the gorilla conservation story.
UWA patrons at trailheads brief Uganda Safari trekkers before the expedition starts about the dos and don’ts when tracking mountain gorillas to inform the trekkers of how important it is to protect these giant creatures. A knowledgeable guide is always on hand to ensure that guests enjoy and adhere to the regulations during this activity.
To become accustomed to the presence of humans, each gorilla group undergoes a lengthy habituation process of between 3-5 years, managed by a team of expert researchers, conservationists, trackers and rangers.
Park rangers start the habituation process by spending a short period of time with the gorillas each day, maintaining a specific distance at the limit of the gorillas’ comfort zone.
Every few months they gradually increase the time and reduce the distance until they are certain that the gorillas are ready for tourists to visit them.
Whilst the gorillas are not yet completely habituated (the gorillas are used to trackers and rangers, but not to strangers or tourists) the Gorilla Habituation Experience will help to ensure that they will eventually become fully comfortable in the company of humans.
Gorilla habituation experience permit costs USD 1,500 per person in Uganda. UWA currently issues only Eight habituation permits per day, a number that makes the experience a scarce commodity. So book with your operator in advance to avoid inconveniences.
There are two gorilla families currently under the habituation process (Bukingyi & Bushaho) in the Rushaga sector of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The third gorilla group in Nkuringo, also currently under the habituation process, is not officially available for the experience.
The gorilla habituation experience’s best accommodation choices are around Nkuringo and Rushaga trailheads in the south, where the only gorilla groups available for the habituation experience live.
Nkuringo offers the best up-market choices, with the award-winning Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge outstanding as both a mid-range and up-market choice for Uganda safari travellers. For the top of the price, Clouds Mountains Lodge offers luxury. But if you’ve got a fat wallet and looking for a modern hotel in the bush, check out Gorilla Heights Lodge.
Rushaga has much of the budget and mid-range accommodation options for the gorilla habituation experience. You can even get a hostel or camp to put your tent in Rushaga.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience is the best option for a gorilla photography shoot. The experience offers more time with a wild gorilla family to capture the perfect shot.
The gorilla trekking of 60 minutes does not give you enough time to get accustomed to the jungle’s lighting and scenery. Yet, photographing mountain gorillas in their natural setting is quite challenging due to the light conditions and the unpredictable distance between you and the gorillas. With at least four hours in the jungle, you have ample time to find the perfect shot for your wildlife photo collection.
However, make sure you’re prepared for the jungle moment. Charge and carry enough battery power and plenty of storage space on your memory cards. Bring waterproof bags or covers for your camera because you’ll be trekking in the rainforest climate and it could rain any time of year. Choose the right camera and lenses.
You’ll be restricted to at least ten-meter from the mountain gorillas. A 70-200mm lens is ideal. A 2.8 lens is even better the poor forest visibility and lighting. Flash photography is restricted. You’ll not need your lighting equipment, and make sure your camera flash is disabled because you could trigger some discomfort in the gorilla group.
Your time with the gorillas is precious, so you should plan your shots rather than shooting wildly. Take your time and find a balance between absorbing this incredible habitation experience and taking photographs of the fascinating mountain gorillas. Leave the camera alone for a while and watch. You’ll find the shot when least expected.
The mountain gorilla habituation experience is a new tourism activity introduced by the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and can be booked through the Nkuringo Adventure Safaris, or Nkuringo Walking Safaris, Email- [email protected]is.com
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