Wildlife safaris are perhaps the most popular attractions in Africa, and most notably the Big Five Safaris. But, did you know that Africa is home to many other unique animals such as the endangered Mountain Gorillas? Yes, in a world where the Mountain Gorillas are on the verge of extinction, the mountainous rainforests of East Africa still boast of multiple families of these rare species.
For those looking for an African safari beyond the Big Five, Rwanda and Uganda provide outstanding gorilla viewing opportunities. Regardless of the country you choose to track the gorillas from, you’ll get a chance to see them all year round.
You’ll need a gorilla trekking permit from the country you intend to do the tracking from.
Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is no doubt one of the leading gorilla habitats in the world. In southwest Uganda, hugging the DRC’s Virunga National Park sits Bwindi National Park straddling over 330 square kilometers.
This gem is a protected area and a home for over 350 Mountain Gorillas comprising over 10 different habituated families. Meeting giant Silverback Gorilla and their families in their natural habitats along the trek is one of a kind experience. The Silverback Gorillas are mostly adult males and they are given this name due to the “silver saddle of hair” on their backs.
There are two species of Gorillas in the world – the Eastern Gorillas and the Western Gorillas. The Eastern Gorillas are generally found in the eastern parts of the tropical rainforest and the Western Gorillas are found in the western parts of the same tropical rainforest. The Eastern species of Gorillas is also subdivided into two species (subspecies), that is, Mountain Gorillas and Lowland Gorillas. The Western species of Gorillas consists of two sub-species: Cross – River Gorillas and the Western Lowland Gorillas
Navigating through Bwindi’s deep thickest requires sturdy trekking shoes and some degree of fitness, especially during the wet season.
Still, in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is a nice alternative to Bwindi for viewing gorillas up close. Covering 33sq. km, this park is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area. Although it is more popular with Golden Monkey Trekking, it is a habitat to over a dozen gorillas.
In Rwanda, visitors can view the entire family of gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Although these rare primates are slightly fewer than in Bwindi, Volcanoes National Park is a popular destination for trekking the Mountain Gorillas too, since its terrain is less steep and less dense, making it a lot easier to hike and trace them.
Stretching over 160sq. km, this park gives visitors a splendid view of these great apes and excellent photographic opportunities.
Gorilla Trekking Tours can range from few minutes to hours depending on their location and family movements. Gorillas move in groups usually comprising adults, baby gorillas, and a giant silverback who is the leader.
Each group of visitors is allocated one hour of ‘close contact’ with a group of gorillas. For visitors interested in further learning about how wild gorillas are slowly familiarized with the sight of humans being near them, while at the same time enjoying the high-altitude forests, diverse flora and fauna, gorillas habituation tours are available.
In a bid to safeguard the welfare of these precious but highly endangered apes, both Rwanda and Uganda limits the number of visitors per gorillas’ family and daily gorillas trekking permits issued. It is recommended that you secure the permit well in advance, especially during the peak season.
Besides offering amazing gorillas trips, these three parks are home to many bird species and indigenous trees which make the trekking interesting. For those also interested in learning about other primates, golden monkey trekking opportunities are available in these two countries.