Mountain Gorilla Tours
Mountain Gorilla Tours have seen a spiking interest in Africa safari travelers in the resent decade. Visitors that have had this experience have testified that no other wildlife encounter in Africa matches the astounding experience of spending time face-to-face with Africa’s wild mountain gorillas. Gorilla Trekking takes place in a handful of far-flung East Africa jungle locations, adding a layer of exotic adventure to Africa safaris that is hard to match on any other itinerary. The fact that gorillas as a species are on the brink of extinction and treks are a highly restricted activity, encountering wild gorillas is considered a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. To watch a family of mountain gorillas relaxing in their lush forest home is an awe-inspiring privilege and a memory you would take away and remember forever.
- Name: Mountain Gorilla
- Scientific Name: Gorilla beringei beringei
- Order: Primates
- Size: 4 to 5 ½ feet when standing on two feet
- Weight: 300 to 485 lbs (136 to 220 Kgs)
- Av. Lifespan: 35 years
- Standing height: 4 to 6 ft
- Lives with: Troop or Band
- Family type: Patriarchal
- Habitat: Montane and Bamboo Forest Jungles of East Africa’s Volcano Mountain Slopes at an altitude of 2,200–4,300 metres (7,200–14,100 ft)
Tailor-made Gorilla Tours Itineraries
About Mountain Gorillas
We know of two species of gorilla: the eastern and western gorilla. The mountain gorilla is a sub-specie of the eastern gorilla and is listed as endangered on the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species because of its dwindling numbers. Currently the mountain gorilla population stands at an estimated 1,063 mountain gorillas according to the last census (2018) and the numbers have been increasing steadily over the past decade, prompting authorities to move the listing down from ‘Critically Endangered’ to ‘Endangered’ in 2018.
Where To See Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorillas are found in high altitude montane and bamboo forest jungles only in East Africa. They live in two isolated groups: one group occupies the Virunga volcanoes shared between three national parks (Virunga National Park of DR Congo, Volcanoes NP of Rwanda and Mgahinga NP of Uganda), the other group flourishes in the jungles of one of the world’s oldest montane forest, Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The best mountain gorilla habitats to see mountain gorillas, an activity famously dubbed gorilla trekking, are either in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks or Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP. This is because they have the best bush lodging options, security, access and easy logistics for gorilla tours. DR Congo is mostly avoided by most travelers.
Gorilla Social Structure
The mountain gorilla is highly social and lives in relatively stable, cohesive groups held together by long-term bonds between adult males and females. Relationships among females are relatively weak.
Mountain gorillas are patriarchal—live in families led by the silverback male gorilla, the other group members will follow and obey their leader as long as he still runs things. A typical gorilla family is made up of: one dominant silverback, who is the group’s undisputed leader; another subordinate silverback (usually a younger brother, half-brother, or even an adult son of the dominant silverback); one or two blackbacks, who act as sentries; three to four sexually mature females, who are ordinarily bonded to the dominant silverback for life; and from three to six juveniles and infants.
Most males, and about 60% of females, leave their natal group. Males leave when they are about 11 years old, and often the separation process is slow: they spend more and more time on the edge of the group until they leave altogether. They may travel alone or with an all-male group for 2–5 years before they can attract females to join them and form a new group. Females typically emigrate when they are about 8 years old, either transferring directly to an established group or beginning a new one with a lone male. Females often transfer to a new group several times before they settle down with a certain silverback male.
The dominant silverback generally determines the movements of the group, leading it to appropriate feeding sites throughout the year. He also mediates conflicts within the group and protects it from external threats. When the group is attacked by humans, leopards, or other gorillas, the silverback will protect them even at the cost of his own life. He is the center of attention during rest sessions, and young gorillas frequently stay close to him and include him in their games. If a mother dies or leaves the group, the silverback is usually the one who looks after her abandoned offspring, even allowing them to sleep in his nest. Experienced silverbacks are capable of removing poachers’ snares from the hands or feet of their group members.
When the silverback dies or is killed by disease, accident, or poachers, the family group may be disrupted. Unless there is an accepted male descendant capable of taking over his position, the group will either split up or adopt an unrelated male. When a new silverback joins the family group, he may kill all of the infants of the dead silverback. Infanticidehas not been observed in stable groups.
Are mountain gorillas aggressive?
Although strong and powerful, the mountain gorillas are generally gentle and very shy. Severe aggression is rare in stable groups, but when two mountain gorilla groups meet, the two silverbacks can sometimes engage in a fight to the death, using their canines to cause deep, gaping injuries. For this reason, conflicts are most often resolved by displays and other threat behaviors that are intended to intimidate without becoming physical.
The ritualized charge display is unique to gorillas. The entire sequence has nine steps: (1) progressively quickening hooting, (2) symbolic feeding, (3) rising bipedally, (4) throwing vegetation, (5) chest-beating with cupped hands, (6) one leg kick, (7) sideways running four-legged, (8) slapping and tearing vegetation, and (9) thumping the ground with palms . Jill Donisthorpe stated that a male charged at her twice. In both cases the gorilla turned away, when she stood her ground.
Gorilla live in the rainforest jungles of East Africa and no where else. Meaning the gorillas are wild and would not tolerate the presence of humans. Thanks to the great research work of Dian Fossey on mountain gorillas in 1966, gorilla habituation was introduced.
Gorilla habituation is the slow progressive process of preparing a gorilla family to the presence of humans in their natural habitat. In order to become habituated to the presence of tourists, each gorilla group has undergone an extremely delicate process, lasting around five years, gradually getting accustomed to the presence of humans. Park rangers start off by spending a short period of time with the gorillas every day, at a certain distance that represents the limit of the gorillas’ comfort zone. As the years go by, they gradually increase the time and reduce the distance until they deem the gorillas ready for paying clients to visit them.
In July 2014, UWA introduced the Gorilla Habituation Experience to allow paying participants join researchers and rangers in the process of habituating a gorilla family, giving paying participants at least 4 hours in the presence of Africa’s wild gorillas. Such a once in a lifetime experience has been described by many as unmatched in all Africa safari activities.
In Uganda gorilla habituation experience happens in Rushaga region of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Tourists can now move with researchers to experience how mountain gorillas are habituated. The price for mountain gorilla habituation experience is USD $1,500 per person per day and one can stay for up to four hours with the gorillas, that’s three hours more than the gorilla trekking experience in Uganda and Rwanda.
Where would you track gorillas, Rwanda or Uganda?
Mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda are all the same but the experience of tracking in either country has significant difference. The most outstanding difference is access to the gentle giants. Uganda’s gorilla jungles are located quite far from the city and it’s the rural countryside road-trip that some people choose to track Uganda’s gorillas. On the other hand, Rwanda is a tiny country, making access to the jungles quite easy for travellers heading that way. The gorilla permit price is arguably expensive for Rwanda bound compared to Uganda. We wrote a great text comparing gorilla trekking in Uganda to Rwanda, check it out.
How different is gorilla trekking from gorilla habituation?
The raw jungle experience of tracking and staying with a wild unhabituated mountain gorillas will leave your fragile emotions trained for the African jungle, gorilla trekking is exhilarating but not that close.
When it comes to pricing, Gorilla trekking in uganda currently costs USD700 (2020) and you get to spend only one hour with habituated mountain gorillas. Gorilla habituation costs USD $1,500, which is the same price for gorilla tracking in Rwanda. If you desire more adrenaline in the African jungle, take habituation.
Gorilla habituation experience only takes place in regions that have mountain gorillas under habituation and as of now, its only in Rushaga where new gorilla groups of Bikingi and Bushaho are under habituation.
In terms of tracking numbers, gorilla habituation is limited to only four people while tracking allows up-to 8 people per gorilla group.
What is the minimum age for Gorilla Habituation Experience?
Like gorilla tracking, the minimum age for gorilla habituation is 15 years and above and all booking guidelines are same as those for gorilla trekking.
To see mountain gorillas you must first obtain a tracking permit from the UWA in Kampala or RDB in Kigali. If you prefer avoiding the bureaucracy, Members of the Association of Uganda Tour Operators are able to purchase permits on your behalf for up to 2 years from the month of tracking.
Nkuringo Safaris helps many of our visitors to obtain permits for either the Nkuringo, Bushasho, Nshongi, MIshaya, Bweza Kahungye or Busingye groups on the south side of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Gorilla groups on the Buhoma sector of Bwindi where availability exists. We also process, on your behalf, your Rwanda gorilla permit. Contact us should you require this service.
Each Gorilla Permit in Uganda costs USD $700 (July 2020) and Nkuringo Safaris’ processing fee is US $30 per tracking permit. A Gorilla Permit in Rwanda costs USD $1,500 per person.
We cannot make tentative bookings for tracking permits with UWA or RDB. All bookings we make with the wildlife authority must be supported with payment in cash at the time of making the reservation.
Gorilla Tracking Fees 2020/21
|Country/Authority||Non- Resident||East African Resident||East African Citizen|
|Uganda Wildlife Authority||$700||$600||Ush 250,000|
|Rwanda Development Board||$1,500||$1,500||$1,500|
- No persons under 15 years of age may trek Gorillas
- Gorilla tracking begins at 08.30. Arrive at least 15 mins prior to this for registration.
- Rates do include park fee, guide fee a certificate of trekking and community levy.
Best Time To Go Gorilla Trekking
Uganda’s raised topography means a cooler climate than its equatorial setting suggests but if you’re planning a gorilla trek on your honeymoon, it’s important to know when to go to Uganda for the easiest trekking conditions. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Uganda for gorilla trekking is during the country’s two dry seasons: January and February and from June to September.
Game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons – February and March and September/early October – when wildlife is concentrated around water sources. Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. April and May, even when considered the rainy season, its great time to visit Uganda and the Gorillas. The views are stunning and it rains mostly in the afternoon for 1 hr and not tempering with activities.