I have always wondered how it is possible that I can safely get within meters of a 200kg plus beautiful but intimidating beast that can rip your arms out of their sockets, known as the mountain gorilla. The simple answer lies in whether the said beast is habituated or not.
Mountain gorilla habituation is a process by which mountain gorillas (it can also be done for other primates) are slowly and gradually exposed to human presence to the point that they regard us neutrally. It should be noted that while both habituated and non-habituated mountain gorillas are considered wild, the latter are truly wild in the sense that they are unaccustomed to human presence in which they are either likely to flee into the forest or be downright dangerous and aggressive.
Thankfully, neither of these are the case when tracking gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda- 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.
It takes about two to three years to fully habituate a group of mountain gorillas, a long and painstaking process if you ask me. This process is even longer for chimpanzees- normally taking about seven years before they are fully habituated.
Mountain gorilla habituation involves spending time with a gorilla group every day and gradually wining over their trust, which is done by mimicking 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 common.
Mountain gorilla habituation started well before the idea to charge tourists $600 was hatched. It is a vital process for research that allows primatologists to observe behavioural 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 behavioural pattern. These also say that the risk of contagious disease infection to mountain gorillas has increased because human interaction in addition to making them more susceptible to attacks from poachers and non-habituated wild groups.
However, it is widely acknowledged that conservation efforts such as the mountain gorilla habituation experience has saved the mountain gorilla from extinction by poaching as it has raised the profile of these gentle giants and proceeds from this tourism activity is helping to fund this. A briefing about the dos and don’ts when tracking mountain gorillas is done and a knowledgeable guide is always on hand to ensure that guests not only enjoy but adhere to the regulations during this activity.
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, Email- firstname.lastname@example.org
For the chimpanzee lovers, the chimpanzee habituation experience in Kibale National Park can be also be booked through Nkuringo Mountain Gorilla Lodge