GORILLA TOUR

TRACKING THE ENDANGERED MOUNTAIN GORILLAS

The Mountain Gorilla is the rarest and most endangered of the Great Apes. In this article we feature a wildlife Gorilla Tour Holiday which provides a unique opportunity of tracking the endangered mountain gorillas in the rain forests of East Africa. Last year, over 800,000 tourists visited Uganda to enjoy a memorable experience trekking gorillas.

The United Nations Environment Programme has designated 2009 as The Year of The Gorilla.

Gorillas, the largest of the great apes are divided into 3 sub species. The Western and Eastern Lowland gorillas and the rare Mountain Gorillas. Lowland Gorillas are found in many zoos. Only about 700 Mountain Gorillas remain in the wild, with none in captivity.

The world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas live within four national Parks in East Africa in two regions, 45 km apart.

Around 350 animals, half the world’s population of Mountain Gorillas inhabit The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. It is believed that the ancient forest of Bwindi has 20-30 family troops. A few of these families have been habituated (accustomed to humans)

The second population is found within three National Parks in the Virunga Mountains. This is a chain of volcanoes along the northern border of Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of The Congo(DRC) and in Uganda. Part of The Great Rift Valley, the range rises to a height of 3-4500m. Most are dormant although Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Sabyinyo erupted as recently as 2006.

Mgahinga National Park, 33 sq Km in area, is located in southwest Uganda. It is home to around 50 gorillas in 5 groups. The Nyakagezi Group is the only troop habituated to humans. A process which can take up to 2 years. This group  is also inclined to cross the border into Rwanda or the DRC.

Rwanda has Parc des Volcans where Diane Fossey (Author of Gorillas in The Mist) studied the Mountain Gorillas for 20 years and is credited with a reduction in poaching. The park covers 46 sq miles and encompasses six volcanoes.

The DRC has a section of the Virunga Mountains called The Parc Nationale des Virunga.

Gorilla Troops number up to 30 apes and are led by one dominant, mature gorilla known as a silverback, because of a silver tinge to their hair, grown at about 13 years of age. The group contains several young males, some females and their offspring. The Silverback protects the troop and organises eating, nesting and travel. Despite an impressive size and  obvious physical strength, the Mountain Gorilla is usually calm and non-aggressive. Surprisingly, they are herbivores and eat over 100 species of plants. Despite poaching and destruction of their habitats by logging and recent civil strife in the area, their numbers remain stable and even show a slight increase.

Tracking is a memorable experience but with long days, dense vegetation and steep slopes it is not for the elderly, very young or unfit. There are some basic rules.

Minimum age is 15 years
You must not be sick or carry any infectious disease. The apes ate extremely vulnerable to human complaints.
No flash photography is permitted
No eating or drinking in the vicinity of the gorillas
No touching. Although they may decide to touch you!!

As normal with any trekking, you must have suitable footwear and clothing. The climate is wet and cool in the mountains.

Binoculars are a useful addition to your equipment.

Finally, check with your safari tour operator that Gorilla Watching Permits are included in the cost. These daily permits can be quite expensive.

There are few wildlife experiences to compare with being upclose to the rarest and most majestic of all the apes – the Mountain Gorilla. With only 700 left in the wild, this is an exciting and unique Gorilla Tour Holiday.

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